Personal responsibility in public policy

Personal responsibility is a core feature of sound public policy. Policies that try to relieve individuals of personal responsibility are unjust and unwise. Policies that recognize and encourage responsibility are far-sighted and effectual.

This point is typically and appropriately made in the context of discussions about government entitlement programs. The government has, increasingly, usurped many individual and family responsibilities, weakening character by fostering dependency.

The concept of personal responsibility has broad applications in other areas of policy, including, prominently, family policy.

Utah’s adoption law, for instance, places a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility. Section 78B-6-110 provides: “An unmarried biological father, by virtue of the fact that he has engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman: is considered to be on notice that a pregnancy and an adoption proceeding regarding the child may occur; and has a duty to protect his own rights and interests.” Yet this provision has been targeted by advocates who would like to force mothers to disclose to someone who did not marry them before impregnating them that they would like to allow the child to be adopted.

Recently, a gubernatorial candidate criticized a proposal to empower parents to take back the responsibility for providing education on human intimacy from the public schools. Under this logic, such as it is, the state must relieve parents of their responsibility to teach their children about sexuality(!). Senator Stuart Reid’s bill is a good counter-example to the trend: legislation that restores rather than discounts personal responsibility.

In divorce, the state has decided to ally itself with the spouse who wants out of a marriage, regardless of what the other party desires and heedless of the choices that led to the decision to divorce. This means the government is in the business of trying to soften the consequences of marriage-destroying behavior and lessening the responsibility of an at-fault spouse for their poor decisions.

There are other examples, of course.

Narcissism need not be fatal unless indulged; yet many seem to believe the government’s purpose is to facilitate individual desires whatever the cost. This failure to give place to the virtue of personal responsibility is enervating not only in economic matters but in family issues as well.

It’s time to re-enthrone the principle of personal responsibility in all areas of public policy.

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