Pitfalls of Shared Responsibility
President Barrack Obama asserted in a recent speech dealing with the country's enormous debt that what the country needs is to live by an ancient principle, namely, "the principle of shared responsibility." He invoked this in his defense of his championing of the increased extortion of the resources of the wealthy, those who earn $250K or more per year. Why this "principle" should be invoked he didn't say – he seemed to think it's obvious.
Frankly the details are not what's important here – what is is that extortion from rich and poor alike is evil and destructive to the country's economy. In addition, the idea of unassumed shared responsibility for economic mismanagement (either by individuals who ought to care for their household finances or by public officials who ought to care for the government's finances) is a very harmful one. Shared responsibility applies only where those who are to share have freely volunteered to do so. I am not morally and should not be legally authorized to conscript my neighbors to share the household debts I have assumed for myself in, say, my repeated refinancing of my mortgage.
It is interesting that a good many policy wonks complain when companies dump their waste into the public sphere – the air mass, rivers, lakes, or oceans. And they are right – such dumping is intrusive, a violation of the property rights of those whose sphere has been used without their consent. The idea of sharing the responsibilities assumed by various public officials in the name of the citizenry is no different. Some, very few, public expenses are, of course, the responsibility of all citizens – national defense, maintaining the legal infrastructure of the country, etc. But when public officials spend resources on what they deem to be important projects, such as a bridge in their district or a dam or a school, these are not shared responsibilities by any stretch of the imagination. These are the responsibilities of those individuals who elected to assume them. The rest of us, who have assumed different responsibilities, are not to be imposed upon by making us all share the burdens of fulfilling such responsibilities.
There is a different ancient principle that President Obama ought to consider before he imposes responsibilities on those who didn't consent to assuming them. It is "the tragedy of the commons." Perhaps the best statement of this principles comes from the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who pointed out that:
"[T]hat which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few." (Politics, 1262a30-37)
This principle is widely embraced by environmentalists who realize that when spheres are commonly owned, they fall into neglect. The same holds for shared responsibilities – people tend to assume that others will fulfill them and they do not need to worry. Even more importantly, it is nearly impossible to determine for a huge population in a country such as the USA just what is to be shared and what is not. Is one to share the responsibility for another citizen's crimes, debts, children, etc.? Why, if you decided not to have any children, must you shoulder the responsibility of supporting them? Why share the debt that others have assumed unless you are a close friend or associate?
No, the idea President Obama floated in his discussion of how to handle the enormous national debt is a nonstarter. And the idea of coercing those making $250K or more to shoulder most of it is obscene. No one is going to pay attention to balancing his or her budget if others will be forced to pay one's debts. It is also a terrible practice to support by the leader of a supposedly free country in which citizens may not be punished unless they have been shown to have committed a crime.
In fact, all this sharing of responsibility amounts to letting off the hook all those who acted irresponsibly in their finances, private or public.
Posted by Wayne on 04/24/11 07:07 PM
Well, it's now a free country for the parasites! Democracy means Mob Rule, and there have always been more non-producers than producers! Envy and greed are a well known trait of the non-producer class. This had to had happen when you agreed to replace the principle of "rule by law" with "Rule by the Majority"
Benjamin Franklin did tell us. "At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powell anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: "Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" "A republic if you can keep it" responded Franklin."
And we failed to even keep it. We just threw freedom away. We are actually pathetic as a people!
Who is John Galt?
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 04/20/11 06:36 PM
Why should I pay my "fair share" when I never get my fair share? What,am I a cash cow for the parasites on the government gravy train?
This is supposed to be a "free" country. Nobody owns the fruits of anyone's labor but that person who created it. If productive people,in America,keep their wealth away from the clutches of the state,that's just somebody on welfare that's going to have to get a job or some banker that won't get a bonus. Its either or.
Posted by Bob on 04/20/11 05:04 PM
1) Those earning over $250K annually are NOT the 'rich' !
2) Taxing the so-called 'rich' is in reality ALWAYS a tax on the middle class!
3) The 'entitlement' of the so called 'working class' should be set by the free open market commensurate with their job skills and work ethic.
4) The hard working entrepreneur is the real "working class" toiling 16 hours per day 7 days per week attempting to keep their company afloat, meet payroll in an increasingly hostile environment, and provide jobs for employees some of whom may net more than the entrepreneur.
5) There is more, but I must get back to work to generate funds sufficient to meet other pending forms of sanctioned extortion.
Posted by Mountainview on 04/20/11 01:41 PM
Tax authority is still national...so no IRS in China...
But a "Tea Party" US could turn protectionist and increase tariffs onn imports... a idea already tried in the past...with bad outcomes. But the jobless recovery in the US shows: A brick is missing...
Posted by Huh on 04/20/11 01:19 PM
"Labor is entitled (there's that dirty word) to at least a share of the wealth that they create."
50% sounds about right. The rest belongs to Obama, just like he says.
Posted by WorkingClass on 04/20/11 12:53 PM
Obama talks about taxing the rich when he is standing for election. Don't worry. He won't do it. Obama is owned and operated by rich folks. Exempt from shared sacrifice are the rich, the corporations, and the Pentagon. That leaves the working class to share the sacrifice among themselves.
I know nothing of the fine points of a Libertarian (or a communist) Utopia. But I know that workers take the material provided by the good earth and by their labor create wealth. Labor is entitled (there's that dirty word) to at least a share of the wealth that they create.
Posted by Huh on 04/20/11 12:36 PM
Wait, are you suggesting that the Chinese should not only be buying US debt, but should also pay taxes to the US? WTF?
are you out of your mind or am I just in need of some more coffee to wake up from this nightmare of insanity?
Posted by Mountainview on 04/20/11 11:12 AM
Another area of shared responsability is to design a nice new technology device for the American market, being sure that consumers will buy it by millions, but to outsource production 8000 miles away...
The producers of the device will pay no taxes in the US, a phenomena which has created over years the current debt nightmare...The definition of sharing in a globalized world seem s to be in need of redesign...
Posted by Alexander Doty on 04/20/11 05:58 AM
Where are the boundaries of shared responsibility properly set?