Why Government Subsidized Sanitary Pads Is A Bad Idea

I was originally going to use the word “Stupid” in the header of this post, but I want to disagree with someone, not offend him so I won’t. You can argue that I still have, but that’s indirect, it’s not in the caption, and none of us have a monopoly on stupid ideas. I’ve had my share of them, so let’s not take this as a personal insult. It’s the idea that is stupid, not the person.

Secondly, I recognize that sanitary pads and their expense is something a lot of women and girls struggle with and I’m on board with solutions that make them more affordable and accessible. Which is why I’m always happy to share Sanitary Aid initiatives like this one, so that we can support with all we can both individuals and businesses. Philanthropy can do things that government can. Charities have made HIV/AIDS medications, condoms, malaria nets, and a host of other things more accessible to the poor. Sanitary pads qualify as one of those things we can support, for the greater good of women and our society overall.

What I do stand against, and the only reason I’m writing this is the idea of consumptive government subsidies. It’s something that needs to die because it leads to nothing but pain and suffering for everyone involved. But let me not get ahead of myself. Here are at least ten reasons subsidizing sanitary pads with government funds is a terrible idea. I’ve kind of broken them down in a way I hope is easy to understand but believe me this isn’t by any means exhaustive.

  1. Our government is broke. There’s no money to pay for even it’s core responsibilities. Police is underpaid and understaffed, as is the civil service, and everyone else. Roads to be built are too many. We don’t have money to invest in power. We make a big deal about oil revenue but $28-$30bn isn’t a lot of money to spread across 36 states, and 180 million people. It’s roughly $200 per person, or N72,000. Cut that into half. So Federal Government earns N36,000 per person and the states get the other N36,000 per citizen shared among them. We no get money. So where is the money even going to come from to subsidize sanitary pads monthly for millions of people?
  2. We’ve already had terrible experiences with subsidies. You can see the logic that will make government subsidize fuel and petroleum products. For one, it’s their failure that we have to import refined products to begin with, as an oil producing country. Secondly, it’s what powers what little energy and transportation in the country so the cheaper it is, the more stuff we can do. STILL. You see all sorts of mess: fuel scarcity, round tripping, fake invoicing, volume inflation to claim bigger subsidies for less product, to the point that the government can not even keep up any more. If you think the results are going to be any different because this is sanitary pads, fam.
  3. Say the government starts subsidizing pads. The program gets popular. What happens? More people want in on it, and do you think you can verify income to make sure only poor people get it? Lol this is Nigeria. Next year, population grows, as does poor people who qualify for subsidy. Subsidy bills grows. And grows more the following year. And the next. And the next. And then a recession hits, and lots more poor people want in, so precisely when government doesn’t have money, the subsidy bill balloons the most, and then do you cancel in the middle of recession so the price of sanitary pads then increases BIGLY after people have gotten used to a stable price? Are you even capable of math and logic, my dudes?
  4. You’ve not factored in inflation so the price of almost everything goes up 12% or more in Nigeria, every year so that’s already a built in increase before all the structural increases of number 3 above.
  5. You’ve not factored that manufacturers, knowing that government will increase subsidy to keep the price stable despite inflation, will then hike prices anyhow they want knowing that demand will remain constant because government is picking up the bill. So they will grow rich and pocket bigger amounts of profit for the same costs while your government gets broker. In essence, you the public are making few manufacturers wealthy. Later, you will come online and insult their children like you all insult Cuppy Otedola for their parents taking advantage of a stupid policy that you all advocated for.
  6. You’ve not factored that manufacturers could claim to ship millions of pads at subsidized price, collect their subsidies then go ahead and smuggle the same pads to Benin Republic and sell for full prices and make money three or four times. While pads are officially N100 in Nigeria (for an example) you will never see them anywhere to buy, but they will be at N500 in Benin Republic and people buy them easily. You guys haven’t hacked the relationship between these subsidies and scarcity all these years, maybe sanitary pad scarcity will wake you guys up. Not counting on it though. Cos half of you will read all this unassailable points and hit me with , well, actually…
  7. To avoid points 3-6 here, when you initiate subsidy, then you also have to hire the enforcers, inspectors to monitor if pads are indeed being sold at subsidized prices, border patrol to make sure subsidized pads are not being smuggled to Benin, a whole lot of people to file the paper work and track the subsidy payments, and a whole other bunch of things that cost a lot of productive time and money. And remember the first point about government being broke to begin with?
  8. You’re subsidizing consumption. As in, not manufacturing, or agriculture or infrastructure, or education, things that will produce goods, services, knowledge, skills that will end up making the economy more productive over time. No, you’re subsidizing something that is used and discarded and when next it’s used has to be paid for again. It doesn’t add anything back. Subsidies are not always bad, but intelligent countries subsidize things that produce returns over time so that they pay for the subsidy. We in Nigeria subsidize bare consumption. And wonder why we’re getting poorer.
  9. If we decide pads are too expensive and we must subsidize them, what happens when people demand food subsidies? What about medicine? Last I checked, it’s not common for people to die because they didn’t use sanitary pads but people sure die when they don’t eat or when they cannot afford medicine. So if you’re going to subsidize, why pads and not the others?
  10. Government is not there to lower the price of goods and services for anyone, least of all through subsidies. This is a terrible way to think about government and one of the reasons we are so poor. Government doesn’t produce anything, it taxes people or it borrows money. If the government owns oil resources it’s because it took them from the actual people who own it and claims to run it on behalf of Nigerians so it’s essentially a 100% tax. And when that is not enough, just like right now, it borrows. Our country borrows billions of dollars at high interest rates. Should that scarce money be used to invest in things that boost revenue and the economy, or spent on sanitary pads? This is not a moral argument, debt has to be paid back. So should it be used to produce returns or spent on pads?

I can go on and on and on. Consumptive subsidies are a terrible idea. I don’t know why we don’t learn this lesson. It’s not even about pads. It’s about the government using money that belongs to the whole country and should be used to boost the country on something like this.

Now, like I referenced at the beginning of this post, I do care about this issue and believe that expensive sanitary pads should be made more accessible to the poorest women and girls in our society. But as the relative success of malaria medications, nets, anti retrovirals, condoms and more have shown, this is where charity does things that government should be doing. That is why I have to once again ask us as private citizens to spend our money and time in a good cause by donating and volunteering for FreeSanitaryPadNG.

Let’s support those who need help the most, and let the government focus on it’s job. Growing the country with the best use of it’s limited resources. Next person to talk about govt subsidies will catch hands since you all never learn. Since we are on the subject, here’s the latest on the government’s favorite subsidy program. Where do you think those billions of dollars are going to? Not your pocket, that’s for sure.

If you want to understand more why subsidies are bad, there’s a wealth of material on the subject. There’s also a wealth of material on the harms caused when a segment of the population corners government resources for itself no matter how well justified it is. The goal of making sanitary pads more accessible to all is a laudable one. Donate to it. 

Just don’t push it to government. That’s lazy and unproductive in the long run.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s