PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AS OPPOSED TO GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY

Introduction

As Western Societies have become richer and richer in the past few decades, governments of all persuasion have been able to expand social benefits to the truly needy and unfortunate members of society. That is all good and well. However, ever increasingly social benefits have been extended to the middle class as well in terms of direct or indirect subsidies such as electric cars, solar panels and numerous family allowances. Some of these subsidies (like electric cars) are completely out of reach for most but the well-off part of society. These subsidies and social benefits are being paid for by ever increasing taxes, although the pattern of taxation has changed (https://ourworldindata.org/taxation).

One of the unintended consequences of the above trend is that personal responsibility has declined. Individuals more and more want governments to assume the responsibility for their own individual financial and other personal decisions leading to neo Marxist socialist governments. How quickly people forget that socialism did not work in the 20th century under Lenin, Mao and Stalin, and it does not work today in North Korea and Venezuela. The real societal economic gains have been achieved under the unquestionably imperfect, but nevertheless effective capitalist system.

 Let me give you some examples of how people aim to ‘socialise’ their individual responsibilities.

Individual’s financial responsibility

The causes of the great financial crisis (GFC) of 2008, which started around 2007 and the after effects was felt for a few years after, have been investigated by governments, regulators, academics and the financial press. Whilst there is not a consensus on the cause of it, most investigators point the finger at Central Banks, financial institutions, regulators and the lack of regulations (see for example R Neate in the Guardian,6/8/2012). Few investigators, with some notable exceptions, pointed at the financial decisions of individuals. This is remarkable, given that a survey in the World Public Opinion (Public Opinion on Global Financial Crises,21/8/2012) suggests 83% of the participants felt that the customers themselves not just the banks contributed to the GFC. The outcome of the GFC has resulted in more regulation for the financial institutions, but very little discussions have taken place about personal responsibility.

Roll a decade forward and in Australia, a banking royal commission (Financial Services Royal Commission or Hayne’s Royal Commission) was established which reported in 2019. The report has identified a number of totally unexpectable conduct by some of the financial institutions, their individual employees and made 76 recommendations. That is all good and well. However, unless if I missed it, there have not been any recommendations/discussions in the financial press about personal responsibility of consumers in dealing with financial institutions. This is despite the fact that, the submission to the Hayne Commission by the Financial Services Ombudsman of Australia (2/2//2018) in Table 4, p15. indicates that since 2009 each year it has dealt with well over 10,000 disputes relating to credit. The Ombudsman Office defines credit as housing loans, credit cards and personal loans. It is difficult to see that all of these disputes would have been the fault of the financial institutions and never of the individual customer. Particularly, when the same document recognises, that banks ever increasingly practise “responsible lending”. Regrettably, nobody ever talks about “responsible borrowing” by an individual. In fact, it is not unheard of that borrowers want to be compensated for their losses or defaults, because the banks lent them too much many. I contend that individuals have to take responsibility for their own financial health.

Individuals responsibility for their own behaviour

As an illustration of how individuals want to outsource their own responsibilities to governments, consider music festivals. There has been a global debate about deaths due to illegal drug taking at music festivals in Argentina, Australia, UK, EU and the USA. All these deaths are deeply regrettable.  Nevertheless, they represent a tiny proportion of the drug related deaths globally. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime has estimated the number of drug related deaths to be globally  around 190,00 in 2017 ( 2017 World  Drug Report,  http://www.unodc.org/wdr2017/field/Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf).

One suggestion is to deal with drug related deaths at Music Festivals to introduce pill testing. Pill testing is based on a seven step process at a “testing tent” which would involve a “harm reduction” worker, a chemist, a medical practitioner and a social worker (O.Willies, ABC News 21/12/2018 ). Proponents of pill testing  generally justify their position based on the results of a number of studies. One of these studies include a 2001 Austrian detailed but non-scientific survey of a very limited number of European rave and techno festivals (EMCDDA,2001, An Inventory of On-site Pill-testing Intervention in the EU).

However, arguments put forward so far   have only considered the demand side of pill testing at Music Festivals. Nobody has actually addressed the supply side of this issue and some of the associated questions. Is the proposition that the supply of illegal drugs would be legalised for specific events? If that is the case, why should bars, pubs and sporting events be excluded? Are there enough social workers, chemists and medical practitioners prepared to give up their weekends and nights for pill testing? Who should pay for pill testing, the tax payers or the individuals? What happens when pill testing fails and somebody tragically dies, who is legally liable? Is the solution the legalisation of “party drugs” and selling them through appropriate outlets like chemist or even government owned outlets like alcohol is sold in Sweden (Systembolaget)?

My contention is that until these questions are answered, individuals must take charge of their own health. Already a number of youngsters are doing it in Europe, US and in Australia by attending sober dance parties to enjoy the music rather than the drugs (see for example Xstatic Sunset Festival, Sydney 6/4/2019).

Key takeaway

The above illustrations are simply to shed some light on how individuals outsource their own responsibilities and decision rights to governments. If this trend continues then over time, at very best, we end up with a “nanny state” and at the very worst socialist governments based on Marxist principles.  So please:

                                                           THINK AGAIN TODAY!

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