It is going to be fifty long days soon and I am yet to come across a case for demonetisation which makes not an economic one, because we do not know the economic impact of this move, but a moral and/or ethical case. People who proposed, legally RBI, didn’t present the citizenry an economic case and hence we can safely assume that there is hardly any concrete evidence, let alone a major study, if presented, is worthy of a doctorate suggesting purported positives of said scheme.
“For the law of Nature being unwritten, and so nowhere to be found but in the minds of men.” And hence (or unknowingly), the government has attempted to make a moral case right from day one but it’s apparent that it’s pitting the poor against the rich, a very subtle but sure direction. It has many who are outraged, can scream, shout and mock, but not many who can present logic, either real or abstract. What we are presented are “perceived benefits” or “probabilities as certainties” which will accrue in the long term. And let us be honest, no one can predict economic long term. Any society which outrages against rightly acquired wealth, is a dangerous society. When the government takes away our freedom, in this case, the freedom to use cash as we deem fit, it has to make a case such that it convinces even scotch drinking, cigar smoking, business class flying socialists.
Here is an attempt.
Arguments presented here are liberally borrowed, inferred and adapted from Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution and John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. A case against this move will also be presented later, again derived from same sources.
First question: does the government have the right to take away our property?
The primary duty of any government is to govern. It has myriads of issues to address to maintain a just society. There are other two related and implied responsibilities of governments. They are to ‘guide’ and if need be, ‘compel.’ In an age of information and super speciality, we may wonder why or how government can guide us. If the past is of any indication, we have, at various times been guided by government. It is true, with different governments, the direction of guidance varies and this is precisely the reason why governments are elected by a majority based on a broad ideology and proposed policies. The society entrusts with the government the power to rule over them. Then, the most controversial aspect of the government is to ‘compel.’ How can any elected government compel men, who by nature, are free willed and have just agreed to submit to the government? Because, “their (government) power in the utmost bounds of it is limited to the public good of the society.” It is limited but is nevertheless well within the realms of public good boundary. Given this, if ‘consent of the governed’ is the principle which we apply to anyone who govern us, then demonetisation is well within the right of the government.
While the right to property is paramount and one of the fundamental rights of the nature, it cannot be a garb under which we allow an injustice to prevail, an injustice, where, accumulation of ill-gotten wealth threatens a just society. Nature has for all that we need. The money, which doesn’t perish is one’s private property arising out of one’s labour, which is as sacred as one’s life. But this property cannot be an ill-gotten one and cannot create inequality in a society. The government is duty bound to respond to such hoarding, which affects a large section of society adversely, while benefiting handful.
As Locke thunders “that neither the sergeant that could command a soldier to march up to the mouth of a cannon, or stand in a breach where he is almost sure to perish, can command that soldier to give him one penny of his money; nor the general that can condemn him to death for deserting his post, or not obeying the most desperate orders, cannot yet with all his absolute power of life and death dispose of one farthing of that soldier’s estate.” It is well understood that there is no absolute power vested with the government which will dispossess a man of his property. But what causes such an extreme measure? It must be understood that “These laws also ought to be designed for no other end ultimately but the good of the people.” What are the use of laws in books, if those cannot be implemented for the good of people? What are the uses of Tax laws if those who cheat, do so with impunity? What are the uses of laws which cannot prohibit, detect and punish hoarding of resources, which must be put in use for common good? What are the use of laws when justice delivery takes a generation and makes justice a cruel joke?
Thus, the government, though may not have explicit power to take away the property for any reason, has the right to take away the property for public good.
Second question: Was the government right in taking away our property?
If someone has a right to exercise something, does it mean that it is right in exercising it?
The oversimplification comparison that we can do is “the government has the right to declare war. Should it actually do it?” Yes, this move is war. When there is a trespass on personal property, even by an elected government, its war. There are reasons for this war. One of the ends of government is to preserve as much as possible, not all and never all. The government is fully aware that “…many accidents may happen wherein a strict and rigid observation of the laws may do harm.” But the “power to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of the law and sometimes even against it, is that which is called prerogative.” And public good is what this move will entail and public good is what has caused this move.
It must be noted that what the government has done here is to order its honest citizens to park their property, in certain form as money bills, in a bank with certain limitations to its access and thus its exploitation. This control is for a limited time, not decided how long now but will not be forever. What are we to do when we acknowledge perpetually that there will be hoarding of property of men of means and men who are corrupt and game the system with their contacts and power? Should the government stand aside and let such atrocities continue? Shouldn’t the government protect because of the power that is vested in it by the community?
Also, why do we live in a community if we cherish so much of personal liberty? And why should there be a community? Isn’t it indisputable that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting.” Is our property being preserved now? Aren’t our properties taken away, swindled and we are left with either no public asset or with public assets of less quality? The silent and invisible taking away of our property by corrupt is not equivalent to the what is ordered now with temporary restrictions to only money in the form of cash.
“They who by any injustice offended will seldom fail where they are able by force to make good their injustice.” The government, offended by the injustice which has been happening for long, is doing good and attempting to reverse that injustice.
There is a question of “why now” that must be answered. There is never a good or a bad time for such an exercise. But if this has to be justified, let it be this. There will be chaos. There will be commotion. There will be internal strife. The public opinion will be split; for we are encroaching on personal property. This is the weakest time of our union. And we seek to do this in a winter when we are provided with natural snow barrier in our north and west, devoid of any external interference.
What is being sought by this move is to come clear, for once, just for once, so that we know most of us are clear in conscience. We do not say that this will end all injustices in the future, nor do we claim that this will make good all the injustices of the past. This is an attempt, an earnest attempt to do both the above, to start from a fresh slate, from a clean state.
This is an attempt in hope; for hope is still alive, it is not extinguished and it is inextinguishable!