Responsibility misused by politicians: study

Jun 28, 2012
Lady Justice
Lady Justice

The concept of responsibility is being used by politicians as a distraction from the real problems in society, which have to do with inequality according to research from the University of Exeter.

In the wake of the there has been a renewed interest in issues of fairness and responsibility. The about equality of opportunity, holding people responsible for their choices and helping people out when they suffer from undeserved bad luck has formed the focus of a four-year research project led by the University of Exeter.

Perceptions of fairness have a strong influence on the current debate about what sort of society we should be trying to build, according to the and Research Council (AHRC) funded research. The researchers found that over the past few decades the prevalent view is that if someone is disadvantaged by their own bad choices, then society has less of an obligation to help them out than if someone is disadvantaged by . On the other hand, if someone is advantaged by their own efforts, then they owe less back to society than someone who is advantaged through unearned .

Terms for moral values like ‘responsibility’, ‘equality’ and ‘‘ as a basis for influencing policy can be abused as much as they can be used to create a better, fairer society according to the research.

Dr Keith Hyams a political theorist at the University of Exeter said: “There has been a lot of talk of responsibility in politics recently, which has been a bit confusing, because the term has been used in two very different ways. It is used to say that we should act responsibly towards our fellow citizens and that we should bear their interests in mind alongside our own. However, the term is also used to say that we should hold people responsible for their choices when thinking about how to allocate resources. How to tax people and how to provide public services and welfare payments are an issue.

The usual approach is that inequalities for which people are not responsible are unfair and that inequalities for which people are responsible can be treated as fair. However, I think when making policy recommendations this is a dangerous political strategy to take.”

The research looked in detail at what it might mean for someone to be responsible for something and ended up concluding that no clear account of responsibility can be given. An example of this can be found in situations where, illness, redundancy and being born into different financial circumstances occur.

He added: “Our research found that as soon as you begin to scratch beneath the surface, most accounts start to crumble. It’s clear that most outcomes are the result of a jumble of causes, some of which people might be responsible for, others of which they are clearly not responsible for. I believe that rather than emphasising responsibility, we should be emphasising the many ways in which people’s lives are affected by structural inequalities beyond their control.”

Explore further: Researchers reveal relationships between rare languages in the Colombian Amazon

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What choice do we have?

Mar 29, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Too much choice can be a bad thing—not just for the individual, but for society. Thinking about choices makes people less sympathetic to others and less likely to support policies that help people, according ...

Sexism and gender inequality

Oct 28, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Individual beliefs don’t stay confined to the person who has them; they can affect how a society functions. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Sc ...

Who should solve the digital divide?

Mar 30, 2011

The idea of a "digital divide" -- describing those who can or cannot get on the Internet -- has been around since the 1990s. Although, it used to refer mostly to access, now it often also means the quality and speed of Internet ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

2 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

5 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

17 hours ago

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wealthychef
3 / 5 (2) Jun 28, 2012
If you emphasize the way peoples' lives are effected by inequalities beyond their control, you are creating for people that they are powerless. That kind of view seems patronizing and ineffective to me. Compassion and understanding are valuable and I can certainly buy that we are not good at judging the circumstances and causes of why people are where they are in life, but saying that emphasizing personal responsibility is "dangerous" seems to me to be dangerous in itself. When people believe they can make a difference, they rise to the occasion. We need to create the conditions to make this more common.
Squirrel
3 / 5 (2) Jun 28, 2012
This is nonresearch research. Checking out Dr Keith Hyams page at Exeter we find his background if philosophy. http://socialscie...esearch/
And his so called "research" funded by the Arts and Humanities and Research Council ".. encompasses workshops, a large conference bringing together theorists and policy makers, a PhD studentship and various written outputs." In other words nothing akin to actual go out in the world research--its just opinion.

Why is the UK taxpayer having money taken out of his and her pocket so Dr Keith Hyams can be funded to have an academic soapbox to air his political views?
Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 28, 2012
One dollar, one vote. It is the Libertarian Ideal.

What could be more fair and equal than that?
Archea
1.4 / 5 (5) Jun 28, 2012
concept of responsibility is being used by politicians as a distraction from the real problems in society
Physicists are doing it as well: instead of responsible solving of energetic and environmental crisis with cold fusion research they're wasting public resources with searches of useless Higgs boson and nonsensical gravitational waves. It's essentially parasitic culture in similar way, like the contemporary politicians. In this context it's not accidental, both groups are financed from mandatory fees and they do maintain similar way of censorship and propaganda supported with mainstream journalism.
tadchem
3.5 / 5 (2) Jun 28, 2012
Ask any physicist: at the quantum level 'equality' means a Bose-Einstein condensate: the state of equality is the state of universal ground-state (i.e. minimum) energy.
Adding energy above the absolute(!) minimum only allows for more differentiation and inequality. Ask Prof. Yakovenko (UMd).

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?