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They Stole Your Money

Philip and Steven Whittington



Three weeks ago in this magazine, Laura McQuillan reported that Clelia Opie – the Women’s Rights Officer of VUWSA – had spent more than $4000 calling psychic hotlines. Oh, and also, you paid for this. She made the calls from phones which are paid for out of the compulsory student levy paid by all students. Rumours abound that VUWSA has since uncovered a further $1800 worth of calls. This week we seek to learn why this theft happens – and luckily find that the answer justifies our political philosophy.

There are four ways of spending money. The first way is to spend your own money on yourself. Consider buying a book, say “The Machinery of Freedom” by David Friedman. Since you are spending your own money you care how much it costs. You may see how much it costs at a couple of stores or check it out on Amazon. You also wonder if that’s what you really want – maybe you’d rather have Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty”. You think a lot about price and quality before you purchase.
The second way is to spend other people’s money on yourself. Consider going out for lunch when work pays, or being a trophy wife (or a trophy husband – sorry Clelia). You care what you get – you want something that’s totally awesome. But do you care about how much it costs? You certainly don’t care as much as if you carried the cost personally – you end up buying the steak, not the salad. This is what Clelia did. She spent your money on herself. Can anyone honestly say that she would have spent almost $6000 on psychic hotlines in over a month if she had to pay all of it?
The third way is to spend your own money on someone else. Consider Christmas or birthdays. You want to get something that the person wants but you don’t want to spend that much. You’re willing to sacrifice some quality for a cheaper price. So you end up buying that bottle of Vodka for some guy’s 21st, but you buy it with two other people.
The fourth way is to spend someone else’s money on someone else. You don’t care that much about how much it costs – and you don’t care that much about quality. This is how Governments spend money. It is also how Heleyni Pratley – the VUWSA welfare officer – spent money recently. The Sunday Star Times reported that she scrawled all over walls and an art work hanging at University. The cost of the damage will be borne by students – by you – and because the money which will cover the damage was meant to be spent on students, she didn’t really care about the quality of the spending. So she spent the money on some very expensive scribbles.
Take a look at that box. That’s all you need to find the answer to any problem. It also provides the answer to why every year VUWSA wastes your money (obviously it covers all problems). They’re meant to be spending your money on you, so they don’t care about how much things cost, or whether the spending is good quality.
That’s why they spent $40,000 on Orientation Week – 40K of your money gone in one week – for a forgettable week of events that not many attended.
Here’s another ill-effect of a big pool of funds that is spent by a few people. They start spending it on themselves. According to this year’s budget, over $450,000 will be spent on salaries. On top of this, there is over $65,000 of bonuses (for all the good work?) and honoraria. Some of that money may be going to good use – we’d only know if there was a free market – but the vast majority is wasted.
At heart of all this waste is the fallacy that you can do good with other people’s money. You can’t. First, you have to steal it off them. Second, the incentives are misaligned – you don’t care about cost, or quality, and just end up shovelling the money into your own pockets.
If the you think that VUWSA is worth it because they fund Salient, there are alternatives. The Brothers could merely set up a blog and post weekly. Even if Salient isn’t a waste, it’s quite cheap to run – 65K. The big ticket items are things that students never see, will never benefit from, but are forced to pay for. The only way to stop your money lining the pockets of thieves and vandals is to kick them out of office, and to stop asking your representatives to do things.