Personal Responsibility is Key to a Less Intrusive Government
I have written before of my concern about the degradation of our government’s functioning and the apparent growing unwillingness of individuals to take responsibility for their lives. I believe there is a causal connection here that I failed to understand.
Even as we trust government less and less, we continue to give that same institution greater and greater sway over our lives. We cede to the government much of what we should do for ourselves. In doing so, we also give up our freedoms as the price we pay. Sadly, we then complain of government overreach. This is a bit of shedding “crocodile tears,” disingenuous because we have gotten exactly what we asked for. This dichotomy stands at the heart of the issue. We want, but we don’t want to give.
A society’s relationship with its government is symbiotic. The two must live in community with each other, but the relationship is not equally beneficial. In fact, there can be some clear losers. Often, the “losers” are certain disenfranchised groups of the citizens. In some cases, the society as a whole loses. This is our predicament today.
In our form of rule, nominally a representative democracy, the efficient functioning government requires the participation of the populace. This concept is often taken as voter participation. As such, the focus is on ensuring that groups, particularly minorities, are enfranchised. It further manifests itself with the “get out the vote” campaigns.
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both tout the fact that they are bringing out voters that have not previously participated, millennials in the case of Sanders and disillusioned working class in the case of Trump. It is not clear from the statistics that either claim is correct in the magnitude these politicians would lead us to believe.
Regardless, the participation required to sustain a functioning democracy goes far beyond merely showing up on the appropriate Tuesday to cast one’s ballot. There are further obligations inherent in the system. The shirking of these responsibilities is at the heart of our problem.
The relationship between the government and the governed is mutual. There are reciprocal obligations. The people must uphold their part of the bargain and must demand the government adhere to the limits of its obligations as well. Unfortunately, we have arrived at a point where “we the people” simply want the government to do it all. This absolves us an any responsibility to bother with the hard stuff.
We don’t need to maintain our health because it is the government’s responsibility to care for us…at someone else’s expense. We don’t need to work (or at least put forth our full exertions) because the government will subsidize us…through entitlements or tax breaks. We don’t need to moderate our lifestyle in order to save for our future because the government will ensure our retirement through Social Security…which was never intended to be the sole support for one’s old age.
What were once “safety nets” have now become “drag nets,” designed not just to catch those who fall through the cracks. Rather, we now see no need to build the sturdy walls of a healthy economy or social system. Let ‘em all fall through; the government can deal with it. However, without a functioning economy that provides both benefit to the employers and a living wage for the employees, there are insufficient resources to provide for those truly in need. As we expand the former, the latter withers.
Such was not always the case. Our immigrant forefathers came to the New World to escape tyrannical governments that had overstepped their bounds and failing economic institutions that could not provide for the populace. They were prepared to, and did, hack their existence out of the wilderness. Their built their own future and asked primarily that the government stay out of their affairs, not try to fix them.
We must take back our lives, and in doing so, take back control of our country. We ought to rebel against the overreach of government, be it in the name of safety (Patriot Act encroachments or some aberrant police tactic) or for the sake of our well-being (the IRS or invasive social policy). However, there must be an internal component to our actions. It is not just “them,” it is “us” as well.
We must take back responsibility for our own lives. It is incumbent on us to prepare ourselves for the future we want, not require the government to produce it for us. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and ensure our kids’ education. If we do not spend time reading to our children, no amount of standardized testing or expenditure on the school system will suffice. No level of “tax and spend” policy will build a real job-producing stable economy. We must personally become the engines of innovation and productivity.
Only after we have done our part can we begin making demands on others. Only when we reassert our personal responsibilities, do we require less of our government. “Outsider” elected officials can only succeed in reforming the system if they have more than a verbal crowd behind them. It requires our actual sacrifice to evoke change.
Dysfunctional government eventually drives people to move or revolt. This is the fundamental cause of the Arab Spring movements and provides the motivations that drive the current migration into Europe and across our own southern border. Our actions today are building those outcomes. Is that what we really want our children’s’ future to look like? If not, it is time to step up.