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Chalks v ComputersPeople in the developed world typically expect free stuff from the government. Free healthcare, free schools, free food, free housing, free clothing, free, free, free. Most of the time, they get it (because politicians want to buy votes) and this presents a very large problem.

There is a story told about a former President of the US, Richard Nixon. His Secretary of State, Dr Henry Kissinger, was briefing him in the Oval Office. Whilst the presentation was taking place, the President’s dog was chewing at the carpet. President Nixon kept telling the dog to stop doing so – but the dog was paying no attention. Eventually, in desperation, President Nixon reached into a drawer in his desk – where he kept a stack of biscuits for such occasions – and threw one on the floor to distract his pet. Immediately, the dog left the carpet alone; and devoted his full concentration to the biscuit. Henry Kissinger sighed. “Congratulations, Mr President. You have just taught your dog once more to chew carpet”!

This anecdote may seem remote and perhaps even dated, yet, it is very much actual. Today in Ghana the Second Lady (yes, the president has to wives and the universe has not ended) chastised the headmistress of a school for requesting chalk. The headmistress did so on the occasion when the second lady was making a donation of computers to the school.

The second lady’s arguments were as follows:

I think we have over pampered you people. Because we have provided free school uniforms so parents don’t even want to buy basic things for their children

I will not give you chalk today, neither will I give it to you tomorrow. You have teachers; you have the PTA, go and buy chalk for the school

All they have to do is to gather a few resources to buy their logistics for the school

And as we can see, the Kissinger reasoning fully applies. The government of Ghana provides about 3 /4 of all basic necessities to schools, but it does so on a random basis. Sometimes there are computers, sometimes books, sometimes food, sometimes uniforms and so on. The problem in so doing is twofold.

The first is that many of said goods may be required in different quantities in different schools with different priorities. The government is fully incapable of so determining. This, however strange it may seem, goes back to the old argument that Communists Cant Count. It is very inefficient for central planners to attempt to read the mind of their “customers” hence they are severely hampered in determining their needs. Thus, this school received 5 computers but no chalk! Sure. That makes a lot of sense.

The rational way of doing this is to allocate a budget to schools and let the schools prioritize their needs. Even in this scenario it is possible to centralize purchases for maximum economic savings. But no. The central government giveth and the central government taketh away.

The second, and most important problem, is that it teaches people to fully depend from the government. Think about it. If you are a parent in Ghana with school-aged children, would you pay or offer to pay for anything if the government is constantly giving “free stuff” to the school? Of course not! To do so would be utterly ridiculous! You want to save your hard earned money for other stuff.

And lastly we have the idiotic concept of “gathering a few resources” to “buy logistics”. Aha. Uhu. Gather from where? The Parent-Teachers Associations in schools are voluntary organizations. Where and how is a headmistress supposed to “gather” resources to buy what they need? Parents and Teachers have no incentives whatsoever to donate anything and they are fully in line with the donations that the government has been providing! They have been properly trained not to spend a dime, and they have been so trained by the government itself!

Think about it. Who in his right mind would complain loudly because a teacher is requesting chalk, the most basic of the teaching tools? Answer: only a government apparatchik who thinks in logistical government terms and not real-life terms.

The direct consequence of “free stuff” is dependency and inefficiency. The etiology (causation) of the issue is not that the government of Ghana is giving “free stuff” to schools, but the fact that because the government exists it is capable of so doing. Governments, all of them, do stupid things and this is the real root cause of the problem. Think about it. Should the government of Ghana would not exist then the free market would have taken hold which would mean that the standards of living of all people in current Ghana would have gone up, to a point at which they would be able to afford paying for private schools hence rendering this debate of Chalk v. Computers, mute.

The insidious teachings that “free stuff” creates is to kill entrepreneurship and discourage self-reliance and in so doing, it diminishes our capacity to make larger profits by serving peoples’ needs.

The government created poor economic conditions and it is now “correcting” them by providing crumbs of “free stuff” to schools. The point of this article is not to single out Ghana, but to show that government idiocy knows no barriers. We, the peoples of earth, are all on the same boat. It does not matter if you live in Ghana, Peru, Indonesia, or Norway; you are subjected to the same stupidity.

Unless you enjoy “free stuff”. In this case we wish you luck with your future life, however miserable it may be because, eventually, all this “free stuff” will run out. And then what?

PS.: incidentally, what is the correct answer given a limited supply, chalks or computers? Well, this depends where you live. If you live in a socialist system then you must choose one because there will never be enough of both. If you live in a true free market, then the answer is simple: both!

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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