Government involvement in social versus individual responsibility

Ronald Reagan Quote -
Ronald Reagan Quote -

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2014 — The United States is more divided today than it has been in the past. Those who lean left have vastly different views from those who lean right.

Compromise is becoming more difficult as each side digs in its heels and refuses to budge. But what is the basis for this division?

Those leaning left believe that society, through government, has certain responsibilities to Americans. They believe that all Americans should have their basic needs satisfied, regardless of whether they have earned sufficient income to pay for these needs. The government, representing the majority of the people, has the responsibility to see that the needs are satisfied.

For that reason the left favors raising the minimum wage, providing food stamps to anyone who needs them, providing welfare payments to people earning little or no income, providing health insurance for everyone regardless of their ability to pay, passing legislation that prevents any perceived social injustices, and reducing income inequality primarily by forcing high achieving individuals to give large portions of their earnings to those who, for whatever reason, have little or no income.

Those leaning left conclude that the government has a social responsibility to insure that all Americans have a minimum quality of life regardless of their contribution to the economy.

Those leaning right have a different view. They believe that the social responsibility should be limited to essentially insuring basic survival for all Americans while promoting opportunities so that all able citizens can take care of their own needs with little help from the government.  They believe that people should be paid according to the value of their output, even if that amount does not provide a minimum standard of living.

They believe that actions taken should always benefit the majority of Americans without infringing on the basic rights of anyone. In addition income should be distributed based on the value of the contribution, even if that results in significant income inequality. They conclude that the government should encourage individual responsibility rather than social responsibility.

So which view is most beneficial to Americans? What should the role of government be regarding social versus individual responsibility?

Those are difficult questions to answer and have really plagued America for many many years.  So perhaps it is time to have this discussion. Starting next year, when those generally favoring individual responsibility will control both houses of Congress, the opportunity for this discussion may be perfect.

Some newly elected members of Congress as well as some other members elected since 2010 strongly believe in individual responsibility. Their views clash with others who say we shouldn’t lean too far to the right and eliminate government programs. The left leaning President and other left leaning members of Congress strongly believe that the government’s social responsibility is great and will push for more social programs.

Oddly we have just witnessed what may happen. The House of Representatives just passed a spending bill that those on the far left would not support because it did not provide enough socially responsible programs. Other right leaning House members did not support the bill because it called for too much spending on social programs. By a slim margin the bill passed.

In the Senate, the bill almost died for similar arguments. Left leaning Senators did not support the bill because it didn’t go far enough and right leaning Senators denied support because it went too far.

So what is the right mix between social responsibility and individual responsibility?

That question really needs to be answered.  Before doing that each side should clearly, and without spin and deception, present the arguments that support their position.  Let the American people hear the discussion and join in where possible. Representatives can hold town hall type meetings to gauge the support from the public. We may find that some positions vary by state and perhaps should be left up to individual states to decide, similar to how we handle the minimum wage. There is a national minimum, but each state is free to set a higher number.

Deciding what the role of the federal government should be when determining social versus individual responsibility, would go a long way toward ending any potential gridlock and efficiently moving the government forward. The time is now ripe for this discussion. And as long as our elected officials enter the discussions with the intent of “seeking a solution” rather than “selling a position,” we may finally be able to make progress.

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