Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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Are Individuals Responsible… in all cases?

There is a curious double standard running through what passes for civil discourse in today's political world. A common mantra from political leadership (especially the Republican Party) is that individuals must be responsible for their own condition. Hence, we are told that we should prudently save money all our lives for our health care and our retirement, and not depend on "entitlements;" that home buyers should never have bought houses they couldn't afford, that they should never have taken out exotic mortgages which they could not pay off; that every adult must understand financing, parse the fine print in contracts for everything from telephone service to automobile insurance, and know how to make intelligent choices in modern life from i-pads to vegetables.

We must, each and every one, be smart consumers in the market, and our market choices are defined as true freedom--- they tell us that nanny government distorts the market, is expensive, and interferes with freedom. When an elderly grandmother at a Republican town hall begs her Congressman not to monkey with her Social Security on which she depends, his response is, "When are you going to learn to be personally responsible?"

On the other hand, there is not a demand that institutions like banks and corporations show similar responsibility. While corporations are now officially and legally "people," somehow the concept of personal responsibility stalls out, lost in a protective fog. The idea is that "market forces" compel institutions to certain behavior, and government interference destroys that freedom as defined above.  Regulation of, say, exotic mortgages and derivatives is castigated as heretical. Nevertheless, when the stock market goes crazy with volatility, currency markets pummel the dollar, the private sector stops hiring, or there is a sudden public outcry against raising the debt ceiling, these are described as spontaneous outbursts of popular sentiment and public opinion. Thus, banks are not lending money because "they" are afraid of a double dip recession; and reporters say "the market reacted negatively to the jobs report," or to the debt ceiling standoff, or to the retirement of Steve Jobs from Apple.  

. . . for the sake of the institution . ....

It takes many forms:

The Blue Wall of Silence

We must protect the church

We clean up our own messes

You will weaken the Presidency/administration in a time of war/crisis/national emergency

An outsider cannot understand

You will take away the motivation to take risks

... and you can offer your own version . . .

It is the excuse not to public identify wrongdoers or to be subject to outside oversight or to allow criminal investigation and prosecution

The claim is that to do so will weaken the Police Force / Church / Military / Business / Organization

The claim is wrong.  And failure to fully investigate and expose weakens the institution, because it inevitably leads to an arrogance and the same or similar behavior continues, or happens again. . . and again . . . and again. . .