July 16th, 2013

A Public Policy of Personal Responsibility

The following is an op-ed I had published in today’s Deseret News.

When legislation regarding the expansion of Medicaid was debated in the legislature earlier this year, Representative Jake Anderegg (R-Lehi) argued for charity care as an ideal alternative to increased dependence upon government programs.

“My vision is a vision of people, county by county, throughout the state, stepping up, hearing the call to action and stepping up to serve the least of these our brethren,” he said. “We have the power to do this ourselves.”

The criticism to this suggestion was swift and sustained. Many interest groups and concerned citizens strongly balked at the idea that those in need of medical care should be required to depend upon the charity of other individuals. Government exists for this very purpose, critics generally claim—to help people take care of themselves when they’re unable to do so on their own.

This idea is false, and more than that, it’s dangerous.

Government exists to protect people’s life, liberty, and property. It receives its legitimate powers from individuals who possess, and then delegate, certain authorities to it. Just as I cannot force my neighbor to fund my medical care, I cannot justifiably do so through my representatives in government.

Today’s government bears little resemblance with its core purpose. This circumstance has resulted from a steady abandonment of personal responsibility, as individuals make poor choices and want bailouts, subsidies, and support to avoid the consequences of their own actions. Eager to assume more power, the state has willingly stepped in to help.

At the outset of determining how best to help those in need, we must consider our objective. Should we seek to support, or supplant, personal responsibility? Are we working towards a vibrant, strong community, or are we relying on the state to take care of those around us?

In a true community, individuals work to voluntarily help those in need. This allows each person to fulfill their personal responsibility rather than shirking this mandate and allowing the state to forcibly tax everybody in order to do it. By deferring to the government, we lose out on important experiences, relationships, and opportunities that are present in interactions of mutual support and service.

Providing these services through a bureaucratic middle man divorces the giver from the recipient, uses force to achieve this goal, and destroys any sense of community. On these grounds, many individuals rightly object to the government’s intervention in what should be an individual role and responsibility.

It is easy to object when the government exceeds its proper boundaries. It’s not nearly as easy to step in and take over, crowding out the government by taking care of our friends and neighbors ourselves. Apathy and laziness lead many to tolerate taxation as a viable alternative, as it allows them to carry on with their lives without being bothered by the demands of others.

If I object to the government taxing me to care for others, many might interpret that to mean that I am unwilling to help care for those in need. This could not be further from the truth. Objecting to the state performing an action does not imply that the action should not be performed. It simply means that you and I should be doing it ourselves.

In the past few decades, government has grown to astronomical proportions, passing laws that affect every part of our lives. Unable or unwilling to take care of ourselves and voluntarily contribute to strengthen society, we have ended up with a nanny state aiming (and failing) to do it on our behalf. As columnist Walter Williams noted, “Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”

To counteract this worrisome trend, lawmakers and citizens alike must restore personal responsibility as the foundational benchmark of each proposed policy. Churches, teachers, non-profit groups, and especially parents should coordinate efforts to promote and popularize this public virtue.

Those fighting for limited government have been largely working backwards, as the fight for liberty is best won not by tearing government down, but by building up institutions and individuals that help create a vibrant society and strong community.

12 Responses to “A Public Policy of Personal Responsibility”

  1. iimx
    July 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm #


  2. James G
    July 16, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Exactly. This is a good post. We need to take such good care of each other that no one would want to rob his neighbor by going to government.

  3. iimx
    July 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    James, Have you ever been in a position that you needed charity care?

  4. Nicole
    July 17, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    Your article touched something within me. You inspired me. I shared it with my family and issued a challenge that each individual prayerfully consider what each can do to contribute to strengthen society. We are revisiting it on Sunday. Thank you for your thoughtful article.

    My older teen, said, “What if I don’t want to?”‘ I replied, “This is about choice. Choosing to be personally responsible to contribute. I will not force you.” She was surprised. She said she would think of something by Sunday. Yeah!

    By choosing abandonment of personal responsibility, apathy or laziness as you state, I submit that an individual is choosing out of the growth necessary to become like God. God did not and does not abandon His personal responsibility. God is not apathetic or lazy. God created the world, gave His only begotten son for each child’s salvation, and inspired in each child a desire to be like Him. That is why everyone of us chose to come to Earth. I believe each individual as a child of God is a creator and has a desire to be like God. As part of each individual’s eternal growth to become like God, agency to choose to be like Him is necessary. To obtain the glory of God, each individual must CHOOSE to be personally responsible, balance mercy and justice, and work toward strengthening herself/himself and inspiring those within her/his influence to do the same as God did. If each person worked toward strengthening herself/himself (being their personal best), then there would be no need to compel individuals to strengthen society. Such individuals would create a society where each person would voluntarily contribute to their society as part of strengthening herself/himself in their eternal desire to become like God.

  5. Nicole
    July 17, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    “Hence, the less government we have, the better, — the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  6. Nicole
    July 17, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”–Ronald Reagan (1989 – Farewell Address)

  7. pierre
    July 17, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    I agree with the article but I do not believe it could work in our present society.

    Maybe it did work in the times of Enoch for a small number of people (we do not know the size of the city of Enoch). I think it could work in a small community made of people with same standards/views. But in our materialistic fallen world what would happen is an even bigger gap between the poor and the rich.

  8. outside the corridor
    July 17, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Connor, I agree heartily with this concept in theory–

    in practice?

    We’ve been in need, and what we have done about it is suffer–

    and take care of ourselves–

    we have reached out in ways that many people have questioned the wisdom of our doing–

    in our moderate ‘poverty’ we found a needy child in the world and brought that child into our home/family (this on top of needy children we had found closer to home)–

    we were criticized for doing this and received no support financially from anyone; a few saintly people gave us a few clothing items–

    at that time we were fairly well employed (though just above working poor)–

    and we had insurance to help care for the needs of our new child–

    we lost that employment and all the benefits–

    one ward was very kind to us at that point and gave us a few things, nothing big, but the kindness was hugely appreciated–

    another ward treated us as irresponsible and undesireable, even though we asked for NO HELP–

    we went without things in order not to ask help of this ward–

    one bishop went ahead and did a small thing one Christmas, though we told him we needed nothing; that was genuinely appreciated–

    but the general attitude is one of, “you must have done something wrong to get so poor” (we ARE INDEPENDENT of both government and church help, but our poverty is obvious; we drive an ancient car and live in a tiny home and can’t do the things others in our ward can do; we can’t afford EFY or BYU or gidgets, gadgets; we don’t have cell phones or ipads or whatever they are)–

    we are without insurance, so we live very carefully–

    we have used no government health programs; we just pray for safety and health–constantly–

    so, you see, if we feel humiliated enough not to be able to ask the church for any kind of help, how could this work outside the church?!

    Yes, we have one area where it has worked; our special needs child has been on scholarship (it was offered to us; we didn’t ask) from a local benefactor (not LDS) for music education (the child is a prodigy)–

    this has been heartwarming; this is not government-originated–

    so we know it can work, but as LDS we are skeptical. If Mormons can make you feel like scum (hate to use that word, but it works), then–

    how can others be trusted not to do the same?

    The worm has gone to the core of the apple; conventional medical care is horribly expensive and benefits from corporate welfare–

    it’s a big machine that is grinding the faces of the poor, however you look at it–

    discussing whether help should come from the government or from the private ‘sector’, when the middle class is being systematically destroyed and when only a few lower income people are maintaining independence (people like us) is somewhat like talking about how to form a functioning society on Mars–

    we’re not on Mars–

    so it’s a moot point–

    at some point Babylon will need to fall, and then *we* can talk about doing things right, but by then Jesus will be here, and frankly that’s the reality I live with–

    the hope anyway; it’s not reality yet–

  9. outside the corridor
    July 17, 2013 at 9:55 am #



    “Private” money that is held by principled (read: not Gadiantons) is rapidly disappearing–

  10. M&M
    July 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Connor, this is a good post. You had us till the last statement. The only solution is the dismantling of overreaching Government. The institutions that should be built up will not be until the absence of competing government agencies. Only in their absence will there be the incentive to build them up.

  11. Connor
    July 17, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    “You had us till the last statement”

    I suggest reading Latter-day Responsibility. I explain that book how both are needed, and are complementary. But in short, I don’t disagree with your statement. The problem is that the limited government folk aren’t building the societal structures that would be needed in the place of an overbearing state.

  12. JL
    August 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    This is exactly how things “should” be and “will” be. Saying that it can’t be done on a large scale now implies that we do nothing of ourselves. Each of us are to be “anxiously engaged” on our own. Whether others get on board is not the point. If we take our consecration covenant at face value, then we know what is required individually. As with all choices, agency is the key. All are called, few will choose to obey.

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