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How to make people more responsible

Posted By Harry Browne On 02/21/2002 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Some people object to libertarian ideas because there are too many irresponsible people in the world – people who will cause trouble if the government doesn’t restrain them.

They say we must have big government because some people won’t act decently toward others, some people won’t plan for their own retirement, some people are too stupid to take care of themselves properly.

In fact, the entire effort to wed morality and politics is based on the assumption that there are immoral or irresponsible people whom the government must control.

Yes, there are plenty of people who won’t act responsibly. There are people who have no regard for the consequences of their own acts. There are people who seem incapable of behaving wisely or benevolently.

But we already have a $2 trillion federal government. Why is it that after amassing so much power and taking so much of our money, the government hasn’t already protected us from irresponsibility?

It’s because politicians don’t use the power and money you give them to do the things you want. They use those resources to do what they want. And all they want is more power … and more power … and more power.

You are the target

That power is aimed at you, not at the people you want to control.

Politicians exploit the existence of irresponsible people to justify rigid controls on your life. Because some people won’t plan for their old age, you must be forced into Social Security. Because some people will do strange things if they look at dirty pictures on the Internet, your access to the Internet must be restricted.

We ask for a government that will restrain or punish those who impose their way physically on others, but we get instead a government that regulates virtually all areas of our own lives.

Discouraging irresponsibility

So what should we do about people who won’t take responsibility for their own actions? I believe the answer is simple:

Set them free.

Give them the freedom to make their own decisions, to face the consequences of their own acts, to see for themselves what their actions do to others and how others respond to them.

Only free people have an incentive to be virtuous. Only people who bear the consequences of their own acts will care about those consequences and try to learn from their mistakes.

A free society rewards virtue and punishes irresponsibility. Government does just the opposite – subsidizing irresponsibility while taxing work and responsibility.

What do we do about people who might not plan for their own retirement?

Set them free.

Let each person know that his future depends largely on his own actions. If younger people see older people who haven’t planned ahead and have to rely on charity, the young will be more likely to provide for the future. Today when someone plans poorly, the only consequence people see is a demand for more government.

What do we do about people who are insensitive to other people?

Set them free.

Let other people shun them or respect them for what they do. Let each person bear the results of being civil or uncivil.

Freedom and responsibility

It’s often said that freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin – that if you want freedom, you must first accept the responsibility that goes with it.

The truth is simpler. Freedom and responsibility aren’t interconnected things. They are the same thing.

Freedom is responsibility. Responsibility is experiencing the consequences of your own acts – not the consequences of others’ acts or making others pay for what you do.

And that’s what freedom is. Without government to force others to pay for your pleasures or mistakes, and without forcing you to pay for what others do, you are a free, responsible human being.

Freedom and responsibility are inseparably linked – not because they should be, but because they are. Responsibility accompanies freedom, whether or not you want it to.

So the only way to induce people to be more responsible is to set them free.

First things first

We are told America must have a moral revival before we can have greater freedom – that people must be taught responsibility before they can be free. This puts the cart before the horse.

If we wait on government to make people responsible, we will wait forever.

We have to decide whether we want a nation of self-reliant individuals who improve their own lives by offering needed services to others – or a nation in which everyone is responsible for everyone else and so the government must control every aspect of our lives.

We don’t need a moral revival, we don’t need politicians making moral decisions for us, we don’t need more controls. If we want people to act more responsibly, there’s only one way to bring it about:

Set them free.


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