Thursday, September 15, 2016

Personal Responsibility

It's one of those things that frames any discussion of public policy in our glorious era of late capitalism. It comes up especially in discussions of retirement issues, but in plenty of other areas as well. Though it's randomly applied without any sort of consistency, expect of course to apply the concept extra hard to poorer people. I'm not especially sure why I should be responsible for making sure I have enough money saved up for retirement in order to not be homeless, but I'm not responsible for fixing the potholes (or hiring someone to fix the potholes) on my city street. The point is that there are some things that public collective action does well, or can do well, such as the provision of certain public services and goods and certain kinds of insurance. Having government do stuff doesn't remove my "personal responsibility" any more than having someone else manufacture my washing machine does. These are arbitrary distinctions. Except for defense contractors, no one is a complete government moocher in our society in any case. Pretty sure working most of my adult life and paying taxes as required shows a reasonable amount of personal responsibility. If the goal is to make sure most people of retirement age can be reasonably assured that they won't live a life of misery and poverty, and a program like Social Security is the best way to do that, then what the hell does personal responsibility have to do with it?