What's our policy?

Nation faces a choice between responsibility and dependency

An insurance company’s television ad depicts various people doing the right thing, or just the nice thing, for strangers. The vignettes of kindness are followed by the slogan, “Responsibility – what’s your policy?”

It’s a question that ought to be asked of every one of us.

In fact, it ought to be asked of every new law.

We think it’d be real healthy if Congress decided that every bill it passes would be evaluated for whether it encourages responsibility on the part of Americans – or whether it would grow dependency.

Why not go further and audit every existing government agency, program, rule and regulation with the same thing in mind? Imagine that: an audit of the government, not to find wasted money, but wasted opportunities to allow people to do things for themselves whenever possible, and to become the best that they can be.

In truth, a “responsibility audit” could be deployed in any facet of life, public or private.

The reason to do it is simple: The more we do for ourselves and those around us – the more responsible we are – the less we will depend on others. We’ll be more free, more capable, more accomplished and more likely to chart our own paths in life.

What would a more responsible society look like?

Well ...

You’d likely see fewer divorces, more marriages, more children raised in two-parent homes, more graduations, less crime, less poverty, fewer meaningless relationships, less abortion, a more robust economy, lower taxes, fewer lawsuits, better health, lower health-care costs, less substance abuse, lower insurance costs, longer lives – and much more.

These are not utopian fantasies or pollyanna dreams. They, as are other benefits to society, are logical, real-world outgrowths of responsible behavior. These things are probably achievable: There are plenty of examples of lives well lived, all around you, that are the result, mostly, of responsibility.

Responsibility ought to be an integral part of every school curriculum at every grade level in every class.

When you realize that your adult life is no one else’s responsibility but your own, you’re less likely to sit and wait for someone to come along and solve your problems and right your life. Instead, you’re more likely to climb the corporate ladder, the social ladder or whatever ladder suits you.

It’s amazing the word “responsibility” isn’t heard every day from our leaders. Regrettably, we’ve strayed far afield from John F. Kennedy’s entreaty to, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Today, our leaders are more apt to tell us what they can do for us, or to point the finger at our fellow citizens for not doing enough for us.

It is inarguable that every law changes human behavior. It’s the whole point of a law, after all. So if lawmakers know they’re changing behavior, why not ask how? Why don’t we ask with every new bill: Will this encourage responsibility or dependency?

This is not a mere academic exercise. According to the Heritage Foundation think tank, one in five Americans depends on Washington for assistance, and “a full 70 percent of the federal government’s budget goes to pay for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance.”

In its “2012 Index of Dependence on Government,” Heritage finds:

• Government dependency jumped 8.1 percent in the past year;

• the federal government spent more tax dollars than ever before in 2011 to subsidize Americans;

• and in the next 25 years, more than 77 million baby boomers will retire (and receive benefits they are entitled to).

Certainly, with the economy the way it is, a lot of otherwise work-eager people need help. The problem is that the dependency trend is long-term and growing, and government policies don’t often put limits on it or show the way out of it.

It can’t go on forever. At some point, as it’s been said, you run out of other people’s money.

Ultimately, we’ll need to decide, as citizens and as a nation, what our policy is: responsibility or dependency.

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