01 January 2008

Rights/Responsibilities and Risk/Reward

This piece at Classical Values pointing to this very interesting sounding book, got me thinking about our current legal and social structure. I made the first comment in the comments section, and seemed to get the discussion off the rails a touch as somebody attacked my viewpoint, while others defended it.

Didn't mean to make that comment section about me, but when you hear stories of the pioneers and what they went through, it does make you wonder what happened to that spirit.

My personal view is that we are the same people as then, just as strong, just as capable, but we suffer under a legal and social structure that is meant to "protect" us, but instead generally just weakens us.

I believe Liberty is a stool with four legs, each as important as the other. Those legs are Rights, Responsibilities, Risks and Rewards.

The biggest problem I have with the Democratic party, and nanny-staters in general is that they have redefined the "rights" leg into more and more areas of things that should be a matter of choice, and they encourage people to ignore the "responsibility" leg to the point that it has atrophied. I believe Rights are in opposition to Responsibilities. I think we all have the right to excercise our right to Free Speech, but you have the responsibility to accept that when other people excercise their Free Speech right, you may hear things you don't like, and people may say things you find offensive. I know we have the Right to Pursue Happiness, but we have the Responsibility to accept that other people may Pursue Happiness in ways we find distasteful and even immoral, but as long as their pursuits do no harm to people not asking for any trouble, then you should let them be (which means that I do believe that adults should be able to gather and pursue happiness in harmful ways so long as everyone involved understands there is a possibility or even probability of harm).

I don't think you can have a balanced view of what it means to have Rights if you create a social and legal system that absolves everyone of their Responsibilities. According to the Declaration of Independence our Rights are Inalienable, but that doesn't mean that they don't come with their own set of Responsibilities. Expecting people to take responsibility for the exercise of their rights, doesn't mean that the irresponsible should be punished, it just means that I feel the legal and social system should be neutral in the matter. Right now there is a gross imbalance in the Rights/Responsibility continuum, in my opinion.

Which brings us to the other two legs, Risks versus Reward. The dogooders of the world have encouraged legislatures and courts to create laws and interpret laws so that folks are protected from the Risks involved from their choices. They don't see that as being something deeply wrong. That's a feature, not a flaw of the current system. But without risk, there is little chance for reward, too. The "Mortgage Meltdown" is a perfect example of the current flaws of this Reward without Risk philosophy infecting the public and private sphere. Lenders were wary of lending to marginal borrowers (who happened to be disproportionately non-white) and were pressured by government at the federal and state level to ease loan requirements. This got some deserving people into houses that might have not otherwise have owned a home, but it also opened the door for speculators, and "flippers", and many folks who simply purchased more home than their current or future earnings prospects would deem prudent. Rather than letting the lenders choose the risks they would want to choose based on sound business practices, the government gave twisted incentives for lenders to be free with their money. The lenders that took the most advantage of these government incentives are now in the worst shape, and even the lenders that ignored the government's 'good advice' find their stocks depressed as the entire industry is looked at suspisciously. Government should stay as far away from the Risk versus Reward continuum as possible. Let people and companies assume risk, and stay out of their pockets when they reap the rewards when their risks bear fruit. Instead you have politicians from both parties looking to "fix" this "crisis" that they helped create, even the market forces will fix this problem if left alone. A family losing their home is an individual tragedy, but they assumed a risk, and if their risk wasn't rewarded, that's not the business of the government to fix. If the government goes around fixing everything everytime risks go wrong, then they'll also have to punish people whose rewards seem out of line with the norm. (just listen to any of the Dems talk about "excess profits")

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