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Archive for Tag “individual responsibility”
This letter to the editor by Don Boudreaux hits the nail squarely on the head.
Arguing for Obamacare, Nicholas Kristof asserts that it is “morally repugnant” for government not to guarantee everyone health insurance (“A Possibly Fatal Mistake,” Oct. 14).
Amazingly, Mr. Kristof rests his argument on the experience of his college friend, Scott Androes, who voluntarily put himself into a position that made health insurance quite costly and who was later diagnosed with cancer. . . .
I pity Mr. Androes for learning in such a harsh way that choices have consequences. But contrary to Mr. Kristof’s assertion, taxpayers are not morally obliged to subsidize irresponsible choices of the sort made by Mr. Androes. . . . So what is genuinely morally repugnant is a policy, such as Obamacare, that—by further collectivizing the costs of health-care choices—undermines personal responsibility. . .
A great point, but there is a deeper issue lurking underneath the surface. In our culture, we regard both individual responsibility and taking responsibility for the needs of others as moral imperatives. The problem is, those two are at odds. They are manifestations of our more basic moral conflict: the pursuit of happiness versus the morality of self-sacrifice, or, selfishness versus altruism.
The way we’ve traditionally tried to resolve that conflict has been to advocate some mixture of the two contradictory elements. As Yaron and I explain in Free Market Revolution:
The defenders of capitalism did not jettison altruism. Instead, in a pattern that persists to this day, they attempted to paper over the contradiction—first by trying to mix altruism and selfishness, then by trying to mix capitalism with state intervention. . . .
This defense of a mixed morality leads inexorably to demands for a mixed economy. . . .
But eclecticism is unsustainable over the long run. In the end, consistency wins out. More-consistent altruists seize the moral high ground from less-consistent altruists. More-consistent statists seize the moral high ground from less-consistent statists. That is the pattern by which government grows.
The key is to be able to defend the morality of individual responsibility and reject the moral notion that we should be responsible for the needs of others. No one except Ayn Rand does that.
Sandra “Pay For My Birth Control” Fluke explains why “her generation” supports entitlements:
[B]ecause our vision for the future doesn’t leave our fellow citizens behind. . . . This isn’t about not knowing how to take care of ourselves—it’s about knowing we should take care of each other.
It’s a funny argument if you think about it. If “we” can “take care of ourselves,” then why do we need to “take care of each other”?
What Fluke’s collectivist language is trying to disguise is that some people can and do take care of themselves—and she believes they have an obligation to sacrifice for those who can’t or won’t.
What about those who don’t agree that “we should take care of each other”? What about the young entrepreneur who is building his business and struggling to support his own family, and doesn’t think he should be taxed to pay for other people’s birth control or college degrees? Well, what he thinks is irrelevant. Fluke isn’t asking “her generation” to “take care of each other.” She wants the government to force us to do what she thinks is moral.
Ah, but don’t worry, Fluke says . . . it’s for your own good:
[W]e’re not entirely altruistic either. By fighting to protect our nation’s social safety net, we ensure that all members of society have a chance to contribute, producing a diversity of ideas that benefits society as a whole. We’ve seen that affordable access to contraception allows women to contribute their talents to our companies, and the same is true of the host of economic supports under attack.
Get it? We’re going to make you sacrifice your wealth so we can hand out goodies to other people, but actually you’ll be better off. Why not, then, leave individuals free to pay for others’ contraception voluntarily? Why do you have to force them to do what’s allegedly good for them? Fluke might say it’s because we’re too short sighted to know what’s good for us. I would say it’s because enabling individuals to achieve their self-interest is not really Fluke’s goal.
This, by the way, is a common tactic of collectivists. They don’t just argue that collectivist policies are good for society, but also that they are good for individuals. Indeed, the practicality of collectivist policies seems almost self-evident to collectivists since, in their view, the individual is fundamentally dependent on the group. The worst disaster that could befall someone, they believe, would be to end up “on your own.”
I disagree. As Yaron and I have argued elsewhere, being left “on your own,” i.e., free, is the individual’s basic political need:
The Founding Fathers [declared] that the collective has no claim on you; that the government exists only to protect your right to live your own life, earn your own wealth, and seek your own happiness. Other people’s wants and needs are not your responsibility.
The corollary was that you and you alone were responsible for securing your own wants and needs. You were responsible for developing the knowledge, skills, and traits of character you needed to earn a living. You were responsible for saving to meet life’s unexpected twists and turns. You were responsible for educating your children. You could ask for help from other people—but you could not demand it as a right. You were on your own.
Did people shrink from the twin values of freedom and responsibility? On the contrary, the vast majority of Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries eagerly embraced life’s challenges and flourished under the new system. People didn’t flee from America, they fled to America. They came here poor, but ambitious—ready to carve out a life for themselves in a country that offered them the only thing they asked for: an open road.
The purpose of Fluke’s op-ed was to argue that her generation shouldn’t be called “the entitlement generation.” They aren’t demanding that other people take care of them—they want to take care of others. But that’s precisely what an “entitlement generation” would have to endorse—a society in which everyone is bound to everyone else, in an endless daisy chain of obligation that rewards those who think the world owes them a living, and bleeds those who make living possible. If you stand with the entitlement state, you stand for an entitlement culture.
My grandfather, a gruff and uneducated but whip-smart guy, started out poor. Following a stint in the Army, he spent a few years working and scrimped together enough money to start his own restaurant in a small town near Philadelphia.
He—and the rest of his family—worked incredibly long hours, first to keep the restaurant in business and then to turn it into a success: cooking the food, managing the employees, sweeping the floors, keeping the books, pleasing the customers, and a great deal else. It was a struggle, but he ended his life as a modestly wealthy man.
But according to President Obama, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
No, Mr. President, “somebody else” didn’t. My grandfather did.
The President’s comments are revealing of a certain attitude toward individual achievement—one that is behind many of the attacks on capitalism. Take a look at Obama’s remark in context:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
According to Obama, anyone proud of his own achievements and opposed to having them taxed and regulated by the government must be so deluded as to think he never received any benefit from others. Since anyone living in society obviously has benefited from others, individual achievement is a myth.
To borrow from Grandpa Watkins, “Ya serious?”
Of course we benefit hugely from others. One of the greatest things about freedom is the extent to which we can profit from collaborating with other people. As Ayn Rand points out, “Men can derive enormous benefits from dealing with one another. . . . The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade.”
But knowledge and trade are not gifts from the collective—let alone gifts that come with undefined strings attached. They come from the past and present achievements of other individuals.
Individuals—Aristotle, Galileo, Newton—made possible modern science. Individuals—Franklin, Edison, Tesla—created revolutionary inventions. Individuals—Rockefeller, Ford, Jobs—catapulted our standard of living forward.
Every creator makes use of the achievements of those who go before him. But what he creates by building on his predecessors is his achievement.
Where does that leave Obama? He is using the existence of individual achievers to justify sacrificing the achievers to the non-achievers. You think you created your business? Hey, you didn’t create the roads or the Internet, so hand over more power and more of your wealth to people who created nothing.
My grandfather is no longer alive, but I’d like to think he would have responded with an unapologetic: “I earned my success.” In truth, I suspect his message would have been somewhat more brief and a great deal more obscene.