Man is most peaceful and productive when he’s both free and personally responsible for his acts and omissions. Personal responsibility without freedom is slavery; freedom without personal responsibility is hedonism; and the absence of both is infantilization.
Thus, when individuals live in society with one another, human nature is most compatible with limited government based on a social compact to which those individuals obligate themselves for purposes of:
1. Maximizing freedom (e.g., preventing the forcible subjugation of peaceful individuals by others from outside or inside of the society),
2. Maximizing personal responsibility (e.g., ensuring that productive individuals are accredited with the products of their own ingenuity, industriousness, and self-restraint and that unproductive individuals are accountable for the consequences of any laziness or destructive behavior in which they engage), and
3. Maintaining necessary collective infrastructure in which individuals can exercise their freedom and personal responsibility in orderly ways (e.g., people and products can move from place to place, disputes can be resolved, dangerous individuals can be segregated from peaceful individuals, etc.).
But those purposes are general; the devil is in the details.
How do we know which specific functions are proper for government to perform?
The meanings of words being highly salient in a career built around the law, writing, and broadcasting, I’ve personally found a helpful test in the definition of the word "govern."
The "Oxford English Dictionary" (online version) definition of "govern" reads, in pertinent part: "govern, v. 2. b. intr. To direct or control the actions and affairs of a peopleor place; (later also) to form or serve as the government of a place."
So, for instance, ensuring that everyone in a society has enough to eat is a nice, noble goal, but to that end, is the redistribution of productive individuals’ wealth (e.g., via food stamps for able-bodied, able-minded adults) "governing," or is that really charity? And if it’s charity rather than governing, then is it really a proper function of "govern"-ment?
In terms of freedom and personal responsibility, when a society takes collective responsibility for feeding all of its members, certain irresponsible individuals end up more free (e.g., to buy cigarettes with whatever money they’d otherwise need to spend on food) — seemingly — while responsible individuals end up less free (e.g., to spend or donate their money as they see fit).
But when the society then imposes restrictions upon individuals’ choices, predicating those restrictions upon its assumed "responsibility" for the consequences of those choices (e.g., imposing a sin tax on cigarettes or outlawing them altogether under the guise of promoting responsible choices), then everyone in the society actually ends up less free.
I’m sure you can think of myriad additional instances worthy of consideration and conversation if you’re concerned about the ever-expanding scope of government. I’ve begun many an interesting discussion with a local politician in my city by asking questions like, "How are you governing when you’re doling out grants of our tax dollars to nonprofits in our community?"
The bottom line? Freedom and personal responsibility must go hand-in-hand; it’s government’s job to see that they do; and for me, a good preliminary test of whether government is properly maximizing both freedom and personal responsibility is the extent to which a particular undertaking fits within the definition of "govern."
Brian Russell wanted to learn how people could live together as peacefully and prosperously as possible, so he studied what makes us tick (and got a Ph.D. in clinical psychology), how public policy keeps us in line (and got a law degree), and what motivates us to do our best (and got an M.B.A.). Then, he put theory to the test, practicing both psychology and law, starting his own small businesses, consulting with business leaders and lawmakers, and traveling the world comparing what does and doesn’t work in 40 societies. Now, he shares his expertise in people, public policy, and productivity on national television and radio, in his book, "Stop Moaning, Start Owning: How Entitlement Is Ruining America and How Personal Responsibility Can Fix It," and here on Newsmax. Learn more at DrBrianRussell.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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