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Self Defeating


Buyers of liquor did enormous damage to their own cause when they thronged shops that had been granted permission to open on Monday. Whatever their level of desperation, they should have known that irresponsible behaviour, particularly violation of physical distancing norms, would lead to demands that the opening of these shops be postponed. This is a classic example of human psychology, in which individuals require others to abide by the norms but do not think these apply to them. It is the mark of civilised society that people have the character to exhibit restraint in pressure situations for the general good. How would such persons behave in really dire situations, such as a sinking ship where women and children are expected to be saved first and, generally, heroism and sacrifice are expected in the imagined narrative?

One of the reasons why people do not adopt the required altruistic behaviour is because they know they would not be able to get a fair deal because of a particular section of ‘professional’ cheaters. In every human transaction, where there is a perceived or real shortage – such as the seats in a lifeboat – there are the greedy and the selfish who not only seek to profit, but also cheat merely because they have the power or ability to do so. Every time the general environment of trade descends below a certain critical level or is poorly regulated, the general principles of fair play and the good of all go out the window. In the case of the liquor shops, for instance, all it needed was a little bit of anticipation by the local administrations to ensure things went smoothly.

This is the difference between prosperous and poor economies. While capitalism depends on people to act upon their base instincts – the desire for profit and the enjoyment of wealth – it ensures strict regulation so that this raw energy is channelised in a ‘productive’ direction. Socialism regulates a lot – too much in fact – but the intent is primarily to ensure ‘just’ distribution of the lifeboat seats, very often leaving out those who would man the oars! The desperation of the boozers for their daily intake is what fills the government’s coffers, but failure to regulate leads to unsocial behaviour and the possible – God forbid – cancellation of permission to open the liquor shops. India’s bureaucracy has been taught to regulate in the socialist universities and innards of government, but they are not told why. Hence the problem!