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My view: Public policy of personal responsibility

By Connor Boyack

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

When legislation regarding the expansion of Medicaid was debated in the Legislature earlier this year, Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, argued for charity care as an ideal alternative to increased dependence upon government programs.

Lynne Sladky, AP

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When legislation regarding the expansion of Medicaid was debated in the Legislature earlier this year, Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, argued for charity care as an ideal alternative to increased dependence upon government programs.

"My vision is a vision of people, county by county, throughout the state, stepping up, hearing the call to action and stepping up to serve the least of these our brethren," he said. "We have the power to do this ourselves."

The criticism to this suggestion was swift and sustained. Many concerned citizens balked at the idea that those in need of medical care should be required to depend upon charity. Government exists for this very purpose, critics generally claim — to help people take care of themselves when they're unable to do so on their own.

This idea is false, and more than that, it's dangerous.

Government exists to protect people's life, liberty and property. It receives its legitimate powers from individuals who possess, and then delegate, certain authorities to it. Just as I cannot force my neighbor to fund my medical care, I cannot justifiably do so through my representatives in government.

Today's government bears little resemblance with its core purpose. This circumstance has resulted from a steady abandonment of personal responsibility, as individuals make poor choices and want bailouts, subsidies and support to avoid the consequences of their own actions. Eager to assume more power, the state has willingly stepped in to help.

At the outset of determining how best to help those in need, we must consider our objective. Should we seek to support, or supplant, personal responsibility? Are we working towards a vibrant, strong community, or are we relying on the state to take care of those around us?

In a true community, individuals fulfill their personal responsibility by voluntarily helping those in need rather than shirking this mandate and allowing the state to forcibly tax everybody in order to do it. By deferring to the government, we lose out on important experiences, relationships, and opportunities that exist in interactions of mutual support and service.

Providing these services through a bureaucratic middleman divorces the giver and recipient, uses force to achieve this goal and destroys any sense of community. On these grounds, many individuals rightly object to the government's intervention in what should be an individual responsibility.

It is easy to object when the government exceeds its proper boundaries. It's not nearly as easy to step in and take over, crowding out the government by taking care of our friends and neighbors ourselves. Apathy and laziness lead many to tolerate taxation as a viable alternative, allowing them to carry on with their lives without being bothered by the demands of others.

In the past few decades, government has grown to astronomical proportions, passing laws that affect every part of our lives. Unable or unwilling to take care of ourselves and voluntarily contribute to strengthen society, we have ended up with a nanny state aiming (and failing) to do it on our behalf. As columnist Walter Williams noted, "Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we've become."

To counteract this worrisome trend, lawmakers and citizens alike must restore personal responsibility as the foundational benchmark of each proposed policy. Churches, teachers, non-profit groups, and especially parents should coordinate efforts to promote and popularize this public virtue.

Those fighting for limited government have been largely working backwards, as the fight for liberty is best won not by tearing government down, but by building up institutions and individuals that help create a vibrant society and strong community.

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute and author of "Latter-day Responsibility: Choosing Liberty Through Personal Accountability."

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