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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sometimes Responsibility Must be Forced

I once heard a child psychologist making a point about getting angry with children.  If a child scribbles on the wall, she said, the first reaction of parents is to get angry because they assume they have a mess to clean.  Instead, if the parent teaches the child how to clean the mess himself and requires him to do so, the task of parenting becomes much more agreeable.

The same principle can be applied to other aspects of life, and of course I’m thinking about government.  One of the reasons we have a healthcare “crisis,” for example, is because of our assumption that the demands placed on the system by those who don’t pay for their own care automatically becomes our burden.  Like parents with a spoiled child we have adopted the wrong attitude and the solution is obvious.  People should be expected to pay for their own health services even if that means signing a promissory note and setting up a long-term payment plan.  By putting the onus back where it belongs we force people to take responsibility for themselves by way of (1) getting more serious about obtaining health insurance; (2) preparing for the types of jobs that make this financially possible; (3) thinking carefully about behaviors (including family planning) that may result in health care fees.  Forcing the responsibility back to those who’ve become accustomed to getting a free pass would help drive down the costs for everyone and get us out of crisis mode.

But what brought this subject to my mind today is the brouhaha over raising the debt ceiling.  The attitude in Washington seems to be that overspending by liberals obligates republicans to go along with raising the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscal crisis.  Not so.  Like the sign we see in offices that says, “Your failure to plan does not automatically constitute an emergency on my part,” republicans need to remain calm and put it back on the liberals in congress to figure their way out of this mess.  Taking this attitude from the very start would rob democrats of the opportunity to ensnare republicans in a nasty battle about the faith and credit of the U.S., and it would leave democrats no choice but to cut spending.