UPSC MAINS 2015 ESSAY #1: Lending Hands to Someone is Better than giving a dole.

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“Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.”

–Vera Nazarian

Lending hands is giving support to a struggling person in order to add something towards his or her empowerment so that the person is able to overcome a crisis or adversity on the basis of his or her own might/ strength on a sustained basis. Giving a dole is mainly propelled by feeling of kindness towards a person in difficulty to give a temporary solace. The example of former is giving education, vocational training and skill formation, low cost credit etc. to an entrepreneur while giving a dole is offering food to a starving person or clothes to a beggar in winter.

Lending support is based on a fellow feeling, perhaps on a much equal terms whereas giving dole is based on a sense of superiority. A support that is enabling lasts longer in the sense of empowerment for livelihood, achieving a higher living standard and pursuing dreams according to one’s potential. Support ends up in enabling a person for productive and fulfilling pursuits and so the fruits of support are sustainable. Dole is a temporary gift in order to please or show kindness to somebody, but it becomes burdensome and unsustainable for the giver if it becomes too frequent.

Lending support serves the cause of individual dignity on both the sides- the lender of the support as well as beneficiary. However, dole may be upholding the superiority of the giver, it is surely undignified for the receiver, especially the receiver for whom dole becomes a habit rather than exceptional situation. Putting the theme in current perspective also leads us to the ongoing debate on empowerment versus allowances, creation of productive assets versus subsidy, and economic rationality versus populism. Whatever way we go, there is no doubt that lending hands to someone is better than giving a dole.

Doles are like free lunches. Milton Friedman, one of the great patriarchs of capitalism said there’s no such thing as a free lunch and everybody should pay the price of the commodity or service he or she enjoys. Milton Friedman’s reasoning is easy to understand. If one individual or group gets something at no cost, somebody else ends up paying for it. If there appears to be no direct cost to any single individual, there is a social cost. Similarly, someone can benefit for “free” from an externality or from a public good, but someone has to pay the cost of producing these benefits. It also leads to wastage as the user who gets things for free would never realize the actual cost and never be prompted for economizing or conservation. Safety nets for the poor and disadvantaged are a must for any compassionate nation, but encouraging folks to go on the dole when not absolutely necessary is disgraceful. In a country like us where one third of the population is below poverty line, food subsidy cannot be altogether done away with. However, distributing doles to garner support during elections is not only illegal and unconstitutional but immoral also. Subsidies that are populist and irrational such as free electricity or free irrigation are called non-merit subsidies because their social benefits are far less than private benefits. These are also economically unsustainable in the long run. Subsidies in the nature of dole are very difficult to stop once offered to public. Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak points out that giving subsidies is a two-edged sword. Once you give it, it’s very hard to take away subsidies. There’s a political cost of taking away subsidies.

Supporting those who want to work earnestly towards their livelihood, entrepreneurship and upliftment is a good proposition. This can be done by creating entitlements in terms of Amartya Sen’s words such as nutrition and health, literacy, skill formation, entitlement to cultivable land, venture capital or micro finance to an entrepreneurs etc. A woman can be supported for education or employment. She can be given freedom to decide about her marriage, career, and method of contraception or child bearing. This support would allow women to be free and dignified individuals of our society.

It has been seen in India that government’s support to farmers in the adoption of new agricultural technology has helped increasing agricultural production and productivity and made India selfreliant in foodgrains production. Creation of core and basic industries as well as infrastructure accelerated industrialization in India. Poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes have also helped raising living standards. The scheduled caste and scheduled tribe categories have seen increased representation in government jobs as well as parliament and assemblies due to special provisions for them. This has given them representation in the power structure of the country. It is a step towards empowerment. Such supports are immensely important in a society in which inequality is glaring and people do not have equal opportunities. In this sense reservation of seats for women in the Panchayati Raj system is also a welcome support.

Subsidies in India have often been in the nature of doles. The subsidies provided by government are marked by leakages, corruption, mis- targeting as well as non-asset creating expenditures. Subsidies have often been guided by populism rather than economic rationality. Such subsidies have been proving a drain on the budgetary resources and their effect has been price distorting. It would have been better to provide infrastructure and productive assets to create sustained employment through these resources. Now the government has started concentrating on supportive measures rather than subsidies of dole nature. Jan Dhan Yojana and Direct Cash Benefit transfer are new enabling supports that government is providing to the financially excluded and the weaker sections. Government is also concentrating on skill formation and promotion of entrepreneurship rather than confining itself primarily to wage employment programmes. Wage employment programmes have been dovetailed with asset creating programmes as we see in MNREGA.

Providing support is always desirable among human beings and especially members of a society or compatriots. In the absence of support budding geniuses, students, scientists, entrepreneurs or any potential performer can suffer defeat or underperform. It is the moral duty of all individuals and democratic states to support its citizens. Shannon L. Alder rightly says, “A best friend is the only one that walks into your life when the world has walked out.”

Such a great feeling overpowers us if somebody supports and helps us. We feel grateful. This does not apply at individual level only. Even at social level offering support to the deserving is a moral duty of each of us. For any democratic and just fellow it is worthwhile to remind, “Stand up for the underdog, the ‘loser.’ Sometimes having the strength to show loving support for unacknowledged others turns the tides of our own lives.” Somebody has rightly pointed out that the next time you want to withhold your help, or your love, or your support for another for whatever the reason, ask yourself a simple question: do the reasons you want to withhold it reflect more on them or on you? And which reasons do you want defining you forevermore?

Citizens of a nation are grateful if it cares for them and supports them in adversity. A bond of trust develops and patriotism becomes a natural instinct. A nation whose government is indifferent and insensitive is condemned to face social tension and even betrayal.

And above all service to humanity in any form is a noble act. People who are emancipated or even properly educated serve even those who are still backward, selfish, rude and laggards in all respects. Somebody has rightly pointed out that the task of the moral philosopher-thinker is to support and strengthen the voice of human conscience, to recognize what is good or what is bad for people, whether they are good or bad for society in a period of evolution. Giving support to anybody who apparently seems to be undeserving, because of some negative traits consequent upon his societal location is a benevolence that comes to us due to sympathy and empathy as a human being. And it is morally justified. On this ground even dole can be justified. But any support or dole that creates an everlasting dependence is not desirable for a healthy growth of society.

Thus, giving, whether through support or dole, is noble. But equally important is the consequence of giving. If support helps to explore and develop the possibilities inherent in a society or an individual, it is desirable. If a dole can save lives, inspire the shattered and broken people, fills their life with hope, it may be justified for a short while. But eventually the quality of our intervention matters. Support is better than dole. It is dignified and sustainable. Dole is like giving crutches forever by making the recipient a lame who cannot do without it. Dole is at times a reward for inaction and inefficiency, support is just the reverse, i.e. it is reward for enterprise and efficiency. Dole ends the dreams and hopes decisively, support rekindles them.