Our system of government erases personal
responsibility and replaces it with personal irresponsibility. As government
reaches its limits, caused by its inefficiencies, unhappiness and misery
increase. The pendulum at some point will swing back.
A major shift in the way we do many things awaits
us: the return of personal responsibility. This shift will, when it happens,
qualify as a new mega-trend. When enough people become dissatisfied with
their lives and understand the role of government in causing their
dissatisfaction, this shift will gain momentum.
Government in its current form, forced upon us
rather than being by subscription or voluntarily chosen, exemplifies where we
now stand. Its failures foreshadow the opposite direction in which we will be
Government operates and gains general acceptance
under the theory that it is an efficient way to solve the problems of
ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a problem they face, like their health
care or their education or their defense, over to others in government that
they think of as professionals or specialized experts or leaders or
politicians. These experts, vested with power, then make the decisions for
the ordinary people. Given large powers, the experts dictate large portions
of the lives of ordinary people.
Under this theory, people have more time to
specialize in their own work and create wealth for themselves and their
families. They don’t have personally to handle the education of their
children or the investment of their money or where a factory is built or the
kind of light bulb they buy. They stop making major retirement choices. They
give up many medical choices. They go to war when they are told to, or else
they pay for it when they are told to. They give up their freedom, and
simultaneously they attenuate their personal responsibilities.
The giving up of freedom is done in the name of
efficiency. People do not so much trade their freedom for security, as is
commonly supposed. They trade it for efficiency. They accept government so
that they can live better and more productive lives.
When this exchange works out to their detriment, it
shows the fault in the theory. There are good reasons why giving up freedom
and the accompanying personal responsibility fail, indeed, always fail and
must fail. There are major unresolvable problems in making government by
force work for the people.
Of course, there are other theories of government
than this one. One of them is that ordinary people are weak, stupid,
uneducated, malleable and inferior, and that there are extraordinary people
who rise above them into an elite, and these elite
people deserve to rule and run the State and bring light into the lives of
the inferior people. This theory can be elaborated into the fascist notion
that ordinary people are nothing without the State and those who man it.
Under this theory, ordinary people are naturally irresponsible, so that there
is little or no question of personal responsibility.
In writing of personal responsibility, I therefore
deny validity to this fascist theory. My view of the human being is that no
matter what faults we have, each and every one of us is in possession of an unique personality that can be made, like a flower, to
bloom under proper conditions. A great tragedy of human life is that so many
flowers are continually crushed, even by their owners, never to bloom or
In all of the many areas in which government by
force operates, private choices become public or collective choices. What
government is and does cannot fully be explained or understood as this kind
of rational process of substituting public for private choices. We know that
the State generally comes into existence violently, subsists violently, and
extends its power in many devious ways. Nevertheless, its reach and
activities are influenced by the people whom it governs. They abide by it and
its Constitution. They concede power to it. They accept it in some measure.
Many support it. Many participate in its elections. Very, very few anarchist
voices are heard in most lands. To the extent that government finds support
and participation of those whom it rules, this way of thinking about
government as the agent of ordinary people has some explanatory power, even
if it is not what comes out of the process and even if it is not the whole
truth about government. It is in the context of this theory that there arises
the contrast between personal responsibility and irresponsibility in the
presence of government.
In this way of living, in which people turn problems
over to government, people do not directly face their problems and
responsibilities. They face them indirectly, if at all, by turning them over
to others. This is a principal-agent mode of living. People as principals
allow agents to carry out many tasks for them, even to detailed control over
personal areas of living.
These agents or politicians or leaders or government
administrators are what I am calling "experts". It is not that they
are actually experts, or that their expertise is real. Their decisions end up
being very inexpert. But despite almost continual bad decisions by
government, the idea that government knows and does best can still maintain
itself as the myth. It can do this without government actually conferring the
benefits it is thought to be providing under this myth. That is because there
is so little questioning of the system itself. Instead most people think that
the system either needs tweaking or new faces to run it better.
Yet when people accept the myth and accept government,
there is one sure negative effect: there is a seismic shift in responsibility
from the person to the government.
The command and control (governmental) system of
life has been championed by its supporters as progressive and modern (and
also by those who considered experts as elite and the masses as inferior).
This system, however, has deteriorated in actual practice, and it never
really worked at any time anyway. It was only mistakenly thought to work when
government was relatively small and did not as seriously mess up
people’s lives and when free markets were able to advance the
prosperity of ordinary people.
Today, despite the failings of government the
principal-agent rationale or myth lives on and on. It lives on in the notion
that government is somehow a good thing or can be made to be a good thing.
This idea remains entrenched. It is taught to the people. The idea of good
government still prevails in most discourse about public matters. The
continued presence of government and its large role in our lives is virtually
always assumed in countless communications in the media, in conversations,
and over the internet. It is assumed that this is a government of the people,
by the people, and for the people, even as the distance between these
assumptions and the reality has immensely widened. Nearly all recommendations
take government for granted and argue about marginal changes. Almost none
question government itself. Hence, there is almost universal denial of
personal responsibility (and the concomitant freedom) and universal
acceptance of the personal irresponsibility that comes with government
officials making the decisions.
This system of turning decisions over to government
only works for the people if people are homogeneous, so that they
accept a public decision and let it stand for everyone. It only works if the
experts are really experts. It only works if the experts, through incentive
systems, are made to work for their principals and not for themselves. The
experts and politicians are supposed to be public-spirited, wise, and mature.
It only works if the people have the know-how to choose responsible and wise
leaders. It only works if the people are able to monitor the behavior of
their agents. It only works if they are able to connect bad results to the
bad decisions of their experts. It only works if the people can change their
experts at will or at low cost. It only works if the areas of government
decision-making are strictly limited, delimited and controlled by the
None of these conditions hold true today, and they
never ever held true. They were a dream, a theoretical dream. The
principal-agent model of government is a fiction in the reality of the
matter. The top-down system that has emerged into the light should make this
clear. Government power rules the roost. Ordinary people have given up
control over major portions of their lives to government officials. They have
lost this control or freedom. Beyond their psychological impact, elections
make little difference in our lives. The system is largely a system of
personal irresponsibility in those areas of life in which the government has
The system of government working on behalf of the
people breaks down or deteriorates when any of these conditions or others that
I haven’t mentioned fail. It breaks down when
the experts can’t get the information to make informed decisions. It
breaks down when the passions and foibles of the experts or elected leaders
rule their choices, rather than the interests of the people who are their
principals. It breaks down when the experts withhold information from the
people or lie to them. It breaks down when narrow interests among the people
get the experts to do their bidding at the expense of the general public. It
breaks down when ordinary people stop monitoring the government. It breaks
down when the government changes the political rules and ensures the
re-election of most officials. This list is not exhaustive. The bottom line
is that government by force doesn’t work.
Some people think that government protects the
innocent weak from the rapacious strong, or that it once did. This is myth
too. The government always has been a focal point for the rapacious, whether
weak or strong, disorganized or organized. Government’s existence encourages
all people to take advantage of one another.
The immense national debt in the U.S. and many other
countries stands as the symbol of how badly the principal-agent model of
government by force has worked out in practice. The agents (experts and politicians)
supposedly ran up these debts on behalf of their principals (us ordinary
people), that is, for wise and publically-beneficial reasons, such as winning
a space race and building up a military establishment and making wars and
distributing food stamps and so on. But if the spending that is the
equivalent of these debts had been productive, these debts would today be
payable, not unpayable as they are. They would not
loom large compared to our income because our incomes would have risen. Each
person would not face a share of the public debt that is some huge number
like $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000. Incomes would not have stagnated for
decades. The fact that the public debts are insurmountable here and elsewhere
shows that governments are not only financially bankrupt but also bankrupt in
Ordinary people took no personal responsibility for
any of this spending and debt. Just the opposite. Once these and other
decisions became collectivized and handled by distant experts, each of us
paid little or no attention to it. They all became matters of personal
irresponsibility. Generally, we paid little attention when the powers that be
extracted the fruits of our labors from us in the form of taxes. We even
registered few complaints when they drafted us into their military forces.
When we were killed and maimed in wars, the public organs of expression
treated this as if it were a badge of honor. We waved flags, had parades,
celebrated the valor of veterans, and attached little ribbon decals to our automobiles.
Our form of government replaces personal
responsibility (and freedom) with personal irresponsibility (and control).
The TSA in its ugly, intrusive, and inefficient ways has taken over the
responsibility of air travel security against terrorism. The traveler no
longer need exercise any judgment in the choice of airlines. The airline
company no longer need compete to distinguish itself as a desired safe way to
travel, or as one that reduces waiting time. The FDA tells us what drugs may
be sold and not sold and what may be used for what purposes and what may not.
The government produces dietary guidelines, that is, it even tells us what to
eat. The government tells us who is the enemy of the day and whom we must now
bomb or kill. Any responsibility or freedom of action we might have in
deciding whether or not we wish to contribute to the destruction of others is
non-existent. As for helping others, the government tells us whom we must
collectively support with money, medical care, emergency aid, and food
stamps. This is not our responsibility.
It appears to me that the fact of government’s
financial bankruptcy is surfacing to the public consciousness. The deeper
fact of government by force being conceptually bankrupt hasn’t yet
bubbled to the surface, but its movement has started.
Michael S. Rozeff