Responsibility — what’s that?


David Cameron’s now famous speech in Glasgow on Monday essentially covered two topics: the need to accepting personal responsibility and the government’s role in judging moral behavior.

His first point is dead on. As he said,

Some people who are poor, fat, or addicted to alcohol or drugs have only themselves to blame… We talk about people being ‘at risk of obesity’ instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it’s as if these things… are purely external events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances… have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices people make.

There is nothing that ensures someone will stay in a miserable state more than blaming someone or something else. Indeed, if the fat, the poor, or the addict does not take responsibility, then why would he or she do anything to fix the problem?

The second point Cameron makes is a bit trickier. He said that “society has been too sensitive in failing to judge the behaviour of others as good or bad, right or wrong, and [it is] time to speak out against moral neutrality."

This brings up an important question: when should the government make such judgments? Generally, the government should let people live their lives as they choose. However, the welfare and health systems as they are subsidize bad choices and unhealthy behavior. Perhaps it isn’t the government’s job to dictate our moral code, but it is certainly not its place to pay for our bad behavior with heavy social and fiscal costs.