Posts Tagged responsibility
In a recent campaign speech, President Obama doubled down on what has become a streak of denigrating business and pooh-poohing individual initiative.
The quote in question:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back…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…The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Although the President’s “you didn’t build that” line is the center of attention, such a response is only logical for those who believe, more fundamentally, that enduring excessive tax hikes is an ideal way to “give something back.” When from the government all blessings flow, then to the government all things must go.
On a more practical level, the notion of “giving back” through increased taxes assumes that any funds we have “given” to the government are somehow being over utilized—that we are getting too big of a bang for our buck, particularly if we go do something leechy like start a business. For Obama, it seems as though rich people and business owners in particular are getting above and beyond what they have contributed to our bloated federal bureaucracy, so how dare they push back when asked to “give back”? By this logic, our federal deficit is really a deficit of “giving back.” The federal government has not overpromised and under-delivered; we citizens have overly devoured and under-“given.”
Talking this way quickly becomes problematic, particularly because the word “give” is being used to describe something that “giving” is not (thus my excessive use of quotation marks thus far—my apologies). President Obama is not talking about business owners “giving something back” through charity, community service, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or, God forbid, value creation. He is talking about business owners submitting to his coercive political agenda, a primary plank of which happens to be making rich people pay for things they don’t want to pay for by getting non-rich majorities to throw stones at them.
Sounds like a good model for “giving something back.”
Yet I’m not one to say that we can’t give something back through government, or even that we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for the successes of government—for the positive achievements it has made toward maintaining social order and creating conditions for human flourishing. Plenty of people gave something to make these achievements possible, material or not. Indeed, as an example of purely material “giving,” Warren Buffett and Rep. Scott Rigell have participated in just that, donating freely and willingly to the IRS. If this is what Obama is advocating—voluntary contributions to the federal deficit—it would be far less problematic, though perhaps still inadvisable (show me the cuts).
So yes, we can and should give back to our communities and institutions, including government, and we should recognize that others have contributed to our successes through their own generosity and commitment (a point aptly made by Jordan Ballor).
But Obama is saying something quite different, for when this notion of “giving something back” is wielded as Obama wields it—toward his own narrow, explicitly coercive purposes—we should recognize that Read the rest of this entry »
In my critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I noted that what really needs to happen is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to individual moral uprightness, and to reject the seductive idol of material security.
The sentiment is pulled from a sermon Witherspoon delivered to Princeton in 1776, containing stern counsel for how to recover from cultural erosion and pull the weight that liberty demands. The solution, Witherspoon explains, requires much more of the individual than a secular, materialistic worldview can invigorate.
Granted, today’s “occupiers” are propelled by a more serious, more pampered sense of entitlement than Witherspoon could have ever imagined. Yet this simply means our task is more difficult. (e.g. “Yes, I know you have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, expensive fair-trade groceries, and a bottomless credit card to pay for it all, but someday you’ll have to face the real world, hunker down, and…you know, actually persevere.”)
Here’s Witherspoon’s diagnosis:
Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?
Exceptions abound, but on the whole, this seems very close to what we’re witnessing — a society that has grown “remiss and lax in a time of prosperity,” and is finally being “compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable.”
Our workers grew up in a less globalized world, insulated from the rising competition of today’s (rapidly) developing nations. Up until recently, we were privileged with a virtual monopoly on freedom, allowing it to spoil our attitudes and outlooks toward ourselves, our neighbors, and economics in general. Our kids went to schools with inflated tuition costs, all the while thinking they were guaranteed a $50,000-per-year job in post-colonial gender studies — a myth solidly affirmed by parents, school counselors, and political leaders, themselves beneficiaries of a post-war boom made possible (in part) by an otherwise war-ravaged economic stage.
The recent expansion of freedom and prosperity has been a good thing, to be sure, but it doesn’t look so hot if you Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I explored the degree of risk and uncertainty involved in pursuing God’s ultimate will for our lives. This week, Tho Bishop has a great piece at the Mises Institute that echoes these themes from the angle of earthly love.
Bishop’s primary goal is to show the parallels between Austrian business cycle theory and what he calls an “Austrian romance cycle,” focusing specifically on the element of time.
Here is the gist:
Romance starts with a first move. Just as Austrians understand that it is the role of the entrepreneur to shoulder the risk of capital investment in order to potentially achieve profit, we can understand that it is the role of an instigator to take the risk in the hope of finding romantic success. Without an entrepreneur, economic growth is unobtainable; without someone making a first move, romantic growth is unobtainable.
To demonstrate the similarities, Bishop provides a brief parable about a young romantic named Adam. In the beginning of the story, Adam is interested in investing in a new relationship, and like any good investor, he is trying desperately to convince certain women that he is “worth the risk.”
Becoming a bit impatient with the slow growth of his success, Adam begins to “stimulate” his love life in the same way a government might try to manipulate an economy: by faking it.
Adam has become frustrated by romantic failure. Fed up with his lack of success in romance, Adam begins to tell every girl who will listen that he saved orphans from the rampaging cannibals of Rojinda, climbed Mount Everest, and once out debated Ron Paul on the House floor. Adam has decided to manipulate his “interest rate.” All of a sudden Adam finds himself as the center of attention.
Behold! The impressive splendor and all-encompassing prosperity of the boom! Spending for the sake of Read the rest of this entry »
I’m about one week late to the Web frenzy surrounding The New York Times Magazine’s most recent piece on “emerging adulthood.” I had a variety of reactions to the article (both positive and negative), but I wasn’t interested in saying much until I read Mark Driscoll’s provocative article in The Washington Post (“The world is filled with boys who can shave”).
The Times piece focuses on today’s ”emerging adults” and tries to answer why so many are taking so long to reach adulthood. Driscoll seems to accept most of the article’s root analysis, but he uses it more as a launching pad for his own discussion of adolescence as it relates to today’s young men.
Historically, a guy would go through two life phases: boy, then man…But here’s what’s happened. Rather than moving from boy to man by this succession of sociological transitions, we’ve created something called adolescence…
Today, adolescence starts somewhere in the teen years and continues indefinitely. There is no foreseeable end. The problem with adolescence is guys don’t know when they’re ever going to grow up and be men, and no pressure is exerted on them to do so.
Driscoll goes on to label this trend a “Peter Pan Syndrome epidemic” in which “men want to be boys forever.”
For me, as a twenty-something who has (hopefully) completed the transition through modern-day adolescence, it’s hard to deny the reality of what Driscoll is describing. It was always difficult to identify the exact time I was supposed to Read the rest of this entry »
Jennifer Senior recently wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine titled “All Joy and No Fun,” in which she discusses whether having children makes us happier.
Although we all probably think we have a good idea of what happiness consists of, it becomes quite elusive when we analyze it as a scientific variable.
Senior adequately recognizes this elusiveness in her article. Rather than taking a firm position from the get-go, she instead drifts from study to study, illuminating some of the more persuasive points while still playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate.
Such an approach is necessary for this topic, for as Senior notes, the majority of mainstream studies say that parenting does not actually make us happier in the long run:
Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.
Most parents tend to doubt such findings (including me), but when you actually read the studies, it’s hard to doubt their conclusions (at least from a macro perspective). Certainly none of us are unhappy parents!
“So what, precisely, is going on here?” Senior asks. “Why is this finding duplicated over and over again despite the fact that most parents believe it to be wrong?”
The only answers Senior is able to come up with are that either (1) “parents are deluded,” or (2) “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.”
I would say the second guess is probably more convincing.
As Senior explains:
Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological Read the rest of this entry »
Mark J. Perry recently posted a classic video of Milton Friedman on our responsibility to the poor. The video somewhat ties into yesterday’s discussion on using forced taxation and wealth redistribution as a means to accomplish widespread “charity” and “economic justice.”
The student in the video begins by asking this question: If we are a government of the people and by the people, why shouldn’t we, as a people, take action through government to help those in need?
Friedman’s answer is spot on:
The government doesn’t have any responsibility. People have responsibility. This building doesn’t have responsibility. You and I have responsibility. People have responsibility.
Friedman’s argument is simply that government is a tool of the people. Although people may choose to use that tool as a means to eradicate poverty, it is we as individuals who are actually responsible, and pretending that the government Read the rest of this entry »