Does government help stop us taking responsibility?

Friday’s show is again at the spectacular Austin City Limits Studio. This is a question which Americans are definitely talking about. A range of news stories from elsewhere suggests you are too. Let us your perspective.

From conversations Ros has had with homeless veterans, to others we’ve had with Obama-supporting professionals, the insistence on individual responsibility of people and companies runs deep here.

Is the American dream creating a problem?
Some argue that this commitment to the American dream – that anyone can achieve anything, that we all get what we deserve in return for our efforts – may actually be undermining America’s society and economy, that problems are created because of the lack of willingness to help needy people and companies.

Fair comment? Or left-wing nonsense? Does government support create a culture of dependency or is it the government’s duty in any country to help out in a time of need, whether it be individuals in need of unemployment benefit or big companies wanting a bail out?

Increas on US unemployment benefit
The big story here is that President Bush has just agreed to extend unemployment benefits after weekly jobless claims hit a 16-year high and a possible bail out for the car industry has sparked heated debate.

But this is not just an American concern –

In Jordan Queen Rania says that unemployment is a ticking bomb and that it was up to the business community to create more jobs for young people.

In France President Sarkozy has launched a 20 billion Euro fund to help save French industries from collapse.

In Australia the government has announced a policy of ‘tough love’ towards long-term welfare claimers and one of Australia’s richest men says giving money to charity to pass on to some poor is ‘letting no-hopers survive for no reason’.

On her blog this nurse says that in a welfare state like the UK “Life seems to be about what can be done for you, what your rights are, who you can blame for things.”

This article argues that in Nigeria many people believe that it’s the government alone who should be responsible for alleviating poverty.

But this report from South Africa says there’s no evidence of dependence on government help there and even the welfare recipients in south Africa have a very positive attitude towards work.

If you’re outside the States, are you comfortable with the support the state offers those in need – the unemployed, disabled, unhealthy and unfortunate – or does the extent to which your government will step in create a culture of dependency and irresponsibility?

35 Responses to “Does government help stop us taking responsibility?”

  1. 1 Bruce Sickles, Falls City, Oregon
    November 20, 2008 at 06:46

    A “hand out” instead of a “hand up” is a huge problem in this country. Most people that I know would rather stand on their own as much as possible without having to rely on subsistance. Only then can you stand proud of your accomplishments.

    Once you are into the cycle of dependence fostered by a welfare state it is hard to walk away. My sister was on welfare with three small chldren and when she got a job working at a factory her income was cut in half.

    It is a ruinous legacy that we seem to have no luck breaking away from-especially when it is the millionaires standing in line for the government (welfare) check.

    If we were to create a program that helps the country as it is helping the people then we all have earned an ownership that can carry us proudly forward.

  2. 2 Jack Hughes
    November 20, 2008 at 07:02

    Great topic.

    It’s a subject where you need to look at what people do not what they say.

    A lot of europeans want to live and work in America with its culture of self-reliance.

    A much, much smaller number of Americans want to swap their way of life for the European model of relying on the state.

  3. 3 J in Portland
    November 20, 2008 at 07:03

    I don’t think that government ‘stops’ us from taking responsibility…….I think that the general self-centeredness and greediness of our society has led us down this path.

    There is too much of the ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘someone else will take care of it’ attitude that just pushes us all into this vicious cycle.

    So many people assume they don’t need to worry because someone else is steering the boat…..so they stop rowing and let the storm roll over them.

  4. 4 Robert
    November 20, 2008 at 08:37

    Yes they do. The current UK government seems to try and regulate all of our lives. By doing so they have removed the ability of us to make active decisions ourselves. People only take responsibility for decisions they make. They don’t take responsibility for decisions made by others that are forced on them.

    I’m not suggesting though that benefits are completely removed, it is right that the state provides a safety net for those in need. But the incentives need to be changed and the decisions given back to the individuals involved for them to take responsibility.

  5. 5 Brett
    November 20, 2008 at 13:33

    Government assistance does a pretty good job of helping people not take responsibility for their actions, decisions, situations, etc. Though it isn’t meant to be used in such a fashion and often is used correctly, exceptions to the rule still exist. *cough* welfare *cough*

  6. 6 Jennifer
    November 20, 2008 at 14:11

    I think too much reliance on the government gives people the ability to be of the mentality they don’t have to work as hard for the things they want. I think that using the government’s assistance to help achieve a goal is one thing but creating a cycle of living off of the system does nothing to raise anyone standard of living or to promote self determination. The factor that makes or breaks someone is their own determination to achieve their goal!

  7. 7 Roberto
    November 20, 2008 at 14:22

    The big story here at the moment is the possible bail out for the car industry.

    ——- The finance arm of GM, GMAC, is filing to become a holding bank, making them eligible for fed bailout funds.

    The bigger story get untold by the follow the typical flashing lights and sirens media pundits.

    Can Western governments bail out a failed economic model they have financed their own governments with?

    Right now piracy has been perfectly legal in international finance and shipping. Nobody is charging and trying these people, so pirates operated with impugnity without usual constraints of regulations.

  8. 8 John in Salem
    November 20, 2008 at 14:24

    At it’s best, our government provides enough assistance to prevent our cities from looking like the poorer parts of Mombai and New Delhi, where you can still see bodies on the street that people largely ignore.
    At it’s worst, it gives American banks $150 billion, no strings attached, in hopes they do the right thing with it.
    The lion’s share of Americans relying solely on the government are the elderly, who collect Social Security, and the unemployed. Both groups have to have worked to earn what they get.
    The myth about America becoming a “welfare state” has never been supported by the numbers.

  9. 9 selena in Canada
    November 20, 2008 at 14:29

    There is a part of me that says government should not be involved in the lives of people. But the realistic side of me knows that some people, through no fault of their own, are unable to make it without help.

    The fact is governments support the rich, through tax breaks, incentives and bail-outs, so why shouldn’t the disadvantaged be supported?

    Having watched the social welfare system change over the years, it seems clear that we have created dependencies. The government hands out money expecting nothing in return.

    Able bodied persons receiving benefits from the state should have to work for what they receive, in my view. Of course, then the question is how much should they have to work?

    My idea is that physically healthy people should work in the volunteer community.

  10. 10 selena in Canada
    November 20, 2008 at 14:36

    How can bailing out business be justified? If people are not buying, the auto companies will still slide on down the slippery slope.

    Then again if people don’t have jobs, things will get worse.

    What is the answer? Let the chips fall where they may, always hoping there is a government handout, so we won’t starve? 🙂

  11. 11 gary
    November 20, 2008 at 14:54

    This is a very curious question! Many people cite social welfare provided to the disadvantaged as exemplary of this creeping, governmental malady, when in fact the principle beneficiaries (counting money spent, not numbers of recipients) of hand-outs are corporate entities and the very wealthy. Capitalists loudly proclaim their love of economic freedom and rail against the evils of socialism, which they equate with communism. However, if one considers each of these economic systems in its purest form; only the latter requires no government intervention what so ever. Everyone is perfectly free to share; but if you want to be rich, you need someone’s (or some system’s) help!
    Of course, this is all just so much flummery. In the current world, a substantially interventionary government is almost an absolute necessity. We need look only to Somolia for an excellent example of the result of having no governmental control.

  12. November 20, 2008 at 15:33

    Let us face it, humans, like any other species, have one modus operandi. They propagate the species. If resources are sufficient, then they expand the species until resources are not sufficient. In a situation where the government is compelled to provide sufficient resources for the least of us, social programs like welfare can be detrimental to the health of the community at large. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Making resources available to those who would otherwise perish in a more natural, symbiotic environment is dangerous. These programs tend to allow and even encourage growth of our society at the most uneducated and least advantaged of our society. We often supply these resources with out strings, repercussions, or a path to self sustainability. The west’s characteristic that is a bastion of hope is at the same time its bane of futility. We value life above all else. Simply letting people die because they can not acquire the resources to sustain life is unacceptable. In the US our internal struggle of what the “rights” of individuals that would suffer with out government help poses greater problems.

  13. 13 Ogola Ben
    November 20, 2008 at 16:11

    Sure! governments helps us not to take reponsibility by restricting the press and including its members who dont make research before going public and as well falling to deliver programmes.
    Legislators in there respective parliaments do not pay the price? They adopt a common paper upon approval and earn their living. The business of belonging to particular parties as enemies contribute a lot to failed achievements and development. why?
    An idea from from one party would be the best solution in regard to party belonging and respect for individual citizens and the world in its way!
    Peace, love, development and proposed achievements lighten the society view of mind other than party influence and adoption! Why would a parliment have a cabinet minister who is also an a member of parliament adopt acommon plan other than the likes of his voters?
    Governments will never function alone. I give you a prize if it ever happens!

  14. 14 Lauren
    November 20, 2008 at 18:41

    I want to propose a challenge to people out there. Go to your state’s Health and Human Services website and research the welfare programs offered. I hear a lot of accusations that welfare is a free hand out for people who don’t want to work and have kids to collect money.

    I know that the programs very from state to state, but here in Minnesota when someone applies for welfare assistance, first they have to meet with a job consular and setup an employment plan. Then, they participate in a work program that requires them to actively search for work. They are only allowed to be on the program 4 consecutive mths out of a 12 mth period. If they have kids, they program has the same guidelines. A family of 3 receives $884/mth if they have no other income coming in. Food support is about $193 per household. Any money earned by a parent is counted against how much they receive from the state, and once they reach a monthly income of $1542.00, they no longer qualify The average cost of a 2 bedroom apartment in MN is $1000.00.

    If you really look into the programs offered the only free handout is unemployment.

    Oh and the amount of your tax money that goes towards welfare programs is 1% of your state taxes and 1% of Federal taxes.

  15. November 20, 2008 at 19:21

    Hi WHYSers!

    I have always maintained that I am not an economic buff, but it would seem to me that the state has to take some amount of responsibility for its own failure to keep a tighter (?) lid on the actions of big businesses like the American car industry, for instance.

    The question of a bailout is essentially a question of morality, in terms of whether the ‘small man’ gets a bailout (too), there is the real matter of whether or not the bailout works, or whether allowing the businesses to fail will not be more devastating in terms of an economic impact. Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

    Sure, private companies and individuals need to take responsibility, however, a healthy state rests on a healthy economy and healthy people to work in it. It is that simple. There has to be a greater balancing act between the two. How is this achieved? Well, that seems to be the million dollar question!

  16. 16 Juris
    November 20, 2008 at 19:37

    I am 21 year old Latvian Living in Latvia with all it’s faults and flaws.
    Living in a former soviet state is a hardcore lesion in not taking responsibility for your actions. since the independence Latvian politics have been too far from the people, but always said to be for the people. I’d say it’s a rudiment from the soviet time, when we had no say whatsoever. A good example is our prime minister, who recently said we will make it then you will see it, about the budget of Latvia, while speaking in debates, when it was a month ago i have not seen the budget yet, and it is the most important issue at the moment.
    Seeing my background i think that private politics are necessary in public life as well, because, if you keep your thoughts only for yourself, u run the risk to be ignored from the government, never knowing if your opinion was the major or the minor, of course there are things you should keep by yourself, like racism or likewise.

    Personal view is for personal use, right to speak come with the responsibility to answer for your words. But never forget to speak about things to you care, you think is important not only for you.

  17. November 20, 2008 at 22:25


    Ohio is not much different then the “guidelines” you outlined for much the same ones used her in Ohio. The trouble is that people in system and that grow up in the system know how to get around it. There is no real way tell if you are “actively searching for work”. Young girls are encouraged to get pregnant so that when the 4 month period and extensions run out on one claimant, the other one will kick in. Get three generations living under the one roof on welfare and you can go all year without missing a month. Working for a few hours a month or taking a few week break can entitle the claimant to renew their claim. Child healthcare and other benefits that most of us have top pay for are awarded all year around. Then you have government relief in the form of things like LIHEAP. There I am working my butt off digging trenches through 2 foot of snow and frozen ground while arguing with rottweilers the finer points of eminent domain while struggling to pay my monthly gas bill. Then I hear on the news that the senate has approved relief for those on welfare.

    The point is this, those on the system know how to work the system and do it with out any subversion. All those regulations look good on paper. But they are impractical to impose.

    Unemployment is NOT a burden passed onto tax payers. All business with more then 2 employees are required to pay “unemployment tax insurance”. It is a pretty heft cost. Much like auto insurance, it stays put if you don’t use it. But if you lay people off, your insurance goes up. It is money that the government collects. There isn’t an employer out there that won’t tell you that they would pay their employees more if they didn’t have to pay this cost of doing business. So if somebody chastises you for collecting unemployment, scoff at them and say I am collecting money that I already should have been paid.

  18. 18 Pangolin
    November 21, 2008 at 10:08

    A boot to the head to the BBC staffer who wrote that question. The reason we provide such miserable social welfare services to the poor is because it is cheaper than jobs schemes or prisons. Never mind the nasty things that revolutionaries can do to disrupt business.

    Genetics being the nasty lottery that they are there will always be a population of people who are unable to work due to illness, addiction (illness), injury, or simple feeble-mindedness (illness). In the US we have articulate people with masters degrees who are homeless and a high-functioning moron in the White House. Nepotism and incompetence overcomes all disabilities. We won’t mention the validity of the executive idiots that run GM or the banks.

    If the morons Sarah Palin and George W. Bush can collect a government paychecks I don’t see why anybody else shouldn’t be on the pad also. It’s not like we’re paying people with hard currency.

  19. November 21, 2008 at 10:14

    Western Governments Kill Initiative, Motivation, Self Cofidence
    TEHRAN – Look at us in Iran. No government to speak of, absolute absence of meaningful public life, yet we have learnt to survive, innovate and thrive. The private sector by far surpasses anything the government or the Administration can do.
    It used to be that the government commanded everything including food supplies, job market and revenues: But right now, it can’t pay employees, it can’t afford subsidies, it has left the nation to its own devices, which is as it should be.
    The culture of dependency kills the object of the excercise. Presumably, when Conservatives take over government in Britain, they will methodically dismantle the welfare state, and relish doing it. Have the last ten years been a waste of time or is it Penelope knitting at night and undoing it the following morning!
    It’s even worse in the States where the law and legal system are open to abuse with flagrant breaches of individual rights and billions of dollars down the drain every year in unnecesary, lengthy procedures, costs, indemnity and damage awards.

  20. November 21, 2008 at 10:44

    Surely, as with the rest of life, this is a case of “everything in moderation.”. There’s no doubt that too much state control does indeed kill personal responsibility and motivation. However, “pure” capitalism with no government regulation or safety blanket doesn’t work either. The trick is getting the balance right.

    @ Jack Hughes

    I’m curious about your contention that “a lot” of Europeans want to immigrate to the USA while far “fewer” Americans want to move to Europe. So far my Googling hasn’t come up with anything conclusive but my sense is that you’re no longer right. While Europeans emigrated to America en masse up to the second half of the 20th century, nowadays Europe doesn’t even make the top ten for arrivals in your country. From western Europe at least (the former eastern bloc is a different animal) if anything there’s a reticence to move to the USA and a belief that Europe has a better social balance.

    Anecdotal evidence only, but I’ve known more Americans who have moved to Europe than the other way around.

    (Written as a globe trotting Canuck who, when living in the UK, twice turned down good jobs in the USA.)

  21. November 21, 2008 at 12:49

    I see government assistance as more than just unemployment benefits. It’s also making sure that poor health won’t bankrupt you, roads are in proper condition, hospitals are well supplied, schools meet certain standards, parents have good daycare centers that don’t cost a fortune, basic pension is big enough that you don’t have to live under the bridge.

    Basically it means taking the fear factor out of life. I know I’ll get bashed for being “awfully European”, but we still have very rich people while our poor – for most parts – are or seem to be less dirt poor than in the US and our crime rate is much less. Coincidence? I think not. Most European countries have pretty strict rules upon receiving unemployment benefits and actively encourage you to look for a new job, some countries can be very harsh on you if they suspect you’re unwilling. So it’s not that we get to enjoy our unemployed life.

    All what I’ve written so far concerns only the individuals. Big companies that where kind of like “the second state within the state” should not be given handouts, or if, then with very severe strings attached. Just like in the US, also Europe has seen a lot of companies moving their factories east, often enough shortly after they’ve taken over another company and gotten money from the government for the promise to keep the jobs for a certain period, usually a year. During that year, all they did was take down all the instruments and pack them for shipping and then wave good-bye. This practice has to stop.

  22. November 21, 2008 at 13:15

    @ Bob and Jack Hughes

    I’m European, my husband is Canadian, we’re scientists and the US is on the bottom of our list of places where we would like to work. I don’t see a big brain drain from Western Europe to the US anymore, especially since November 2000…

  23. November 21, 2008 at 13:44


    The social services were created to equalize as best they can the truly disadvantaged. There was, and to some extent still is a need for, services to the 1/3 of the population that became unemployed, unwanted, and with out rights in 1865. IT is a situation that continued until 1965 in law. But as we discussed earlier in the year, as of the end of next year or so it is projected that European decent Americans will be in the minority. That is a “benchmark”. This will not be a result of the children of the well educated well educated, financially capable, and equally advantaged minorities having a vastly greater birth to “death ratio”. It will be because that ratio among the least advantaged of our citizenry is through the roof.

    Two things here. One when poor uneducated girls are allowed to become poor uneducated single mothers, their chances of improving their situation diminished greatly. Also the chances that the cycle will continue increases. Secondly, the part that effects the looser of the “genetic lottery”, is that as more of the people described above enter the system, resources for those who really need the enabling is decreased.

  24. 24 roebert
    November 21, 2008 at 14:23

    Governments are the single biggest reason why we ought to take responsibility. And the major part of that responsibility is to ensure that governments act responsibly. Give any government half a chance and it will begin to act out of its own perceptions of its power. Our responsibility is to ensure that even that sense of power doesn’t take root in the mindset of any government. So, yes, if we have govts, we have to keep on our toes, or we’ll be knocked off our feet.

    In short, in democratic countries, our responsibility is to remind govts constantly that they are nothing more than overpaid public servants.

  25. November 21, 2008 at 14:25

    James from Kenya here.
    If i go hungry after sleeping the whole,I am the one who hurts not the government. The government in simplest definition should faciliate my efforts to get money.I got a personal responsibility to do what I can instead of blaming the government even when my cat gets stuck on the tree the government should have cut.

  26. 26 Steve
    November 21, 2008 at 16:24

    What a timely and PERFECT example of this. Way to encourage obesity.


  27. 27 DENNIS
    November 21, 2008 at 16:49

    Yes, it doesn’t allows us to personal responsibility for our actions!

  28. 28 Amy
    November 21, 2008 at 17:11

    We are now witnessing some of the results of American self-reliance: families one major illness away from bankruptcy because they are unable to secure affordable and effective healthcare and a ridiculous income gap where a small percentage of the population enriches itself at the expense of everyone else.

    Still, most Americans shy away from from seeking government help despite their precarious financial position, unless of course they are bankers and automotive executives seeking to keep themselves and their companies afloat.

  29. November 22, 2008 at 00:37


    The reason we are all one illness away from bankrupts is that the government has been too buys treating the symptoms and not the economy’s illness.

    I explained to a friend like this. Let us say me and you approached Steve at the exact same time to buy his house. I have $4500 in my pocket, you have $5000 in your pocket. Guess what Steve’s house is worth? $5000 right? Well that is until a slick talker across the street watching the whole thing see what is going on and approach me with this offer. “I will give you $1000 if you give me $1200 in two weeks.” Guess what Steve’s house is now worth? $5500 to Steve, $5700 to me. Look at all the bad things that just happened. I spent money that I don’t have any guarantees to ever get. You could get a bigger loan and out bid me causing an even further inflation. You could look around and see that everybody saw Steve sell his house for more money, and they now want more for theirs. They are willing to wait until you get a loan to pay it too.

    Imagine you get sick. The doctor says, “the treatment is going to cost $1000.” You say, I can’t pay that, who can afford to pay that. The patient sitting next to you says, “Oh I have insurance.” If nobody had insurance, the treatment would cost about 50 bucks.

    The government needs and needed to step in and stop those people offering products that would lead to inflation. Then don’t need to step in and help people who find it more economical to not work.

  30. 30 Bruno Australia
    November 22, 2008 at 04:10

    Why any Government want to hand out money to people in the name of social assistance? And why the government take the credit for the hand out? It is taxpayer money. Should working people get the glory? We, as a society, are stripped out from our social responsibility. Think about: We are told how to treat our children, Teacher no longer can reprimand naughty children, people are told how and when to drink and what to eat, a lot been said how and when your sex life should be operative, and other example of etc. etc.
    We are educated to believe in those things and therefore we as a society depend on the government for every things. We are demoted from our social responsibility. In that spectrum, does the government owe us a living?


  31. 31 Pangolin
    November 22, 2008 at 10:23

    Dwight, in your first example the government will send sheriffs to enforce a loan contract even if that contract is so convoluted as to be fraudulent. Try and read your credit card contract and figure out what all the rules are.

    In your second example the government will send agents to arrest a “doctor” who is not sanctioned by the private board that enforces monopolies. Your doctor spent twenty years in school; how much of that was actually retained or had relevance to practicing medicine? Once you are sick enough you are ill prepared to enter a valid contract for treatment and costs.

    Government is more about protecting wealth than protecting people. Regardless of the source of that wealth.

  32. November 22, 2008 at 14:40

    @ Pangolin,

    You are missing the point. The real values of these things are lost when the credit industry is allowed to add counterfeit capital. The same is true of the doctor going to school. The cost of becoming a medical doctor cost about 1/4 million dollars because financial industries give people the money to pay those costs. IF they didn’t capitalism would keep the prices at a manageable level. The same is true for every product on the market. No way would we pay the prices for houses, cars, education, healthcare, and bath tubs full of pudding if we had to pay for it out of pocket. It these companies wanted to sell their product, they would have to sell at prices more relative to the average wage.

    That is the point. The problem is that our government has catered too much to certain people. A government’s job is to protect the wealth of the system, not the wealth of certain individuals. The very instant the majority of the people had to start “saving” for a house they should have thought, “why is that and what can we do to fix it?” not, “how can we help them save and/ or afford the new outrageous prices.” A few moths back we had a discussion about “living beyond our means”. That is not possible if you are paying cash for everything.

  33. 33 natalie sara
    November 22, 2008 at 15:19

    in singapore there is no such thing as full government support. the people are pressed to have individual responsibility over health and every other aspect of their lives, meaning no unemployment benefits either. thus in such a recession like this and unemploymnet climbing, there has been pressure to reduce the goods and services tax from the current 7% (it was increased from 5% a year ago). but the government persists on keeping status quo while giving out money handouts to the more vulnerable groups.

    i feel that such creates less complacency from the people to work hard with a little government provision on the sidelines if needed.

  34. 34 John LaGrua/New York
    November 22, 2008 at 21:30

    Public assistance to those in need but with a solid work history is a reasonable and important concept .The indolent or chronically unemployed should be allowed to let hunger motivate them to work,no matter the type of job .The irresponsible ,woman who have illegitimate children and other dole seekers should not be put on public assistance.We have come to the end of a period where the society encourages indolence .The nexrt decade will be slim pickings even for those who are willing to be responsible citizens ,work hard and live prudently.Government programs must be seen only as temporary help to the deserving..Retraining is key to new circumstances. ” Give a man a fish ,he has a meal.Teach a man to fish and he eats all his life” Lao Tzu

  35. 35 Emile Barre
    November 23, 2008 at 15:08

    Governments are elected to responsibility,individuals are not. They are different responsibilities. The greater one always belongs to governments.

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