Responsibility misused by politicians: study

June 28, 2012, University of Exeter
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.”

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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.
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?
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?
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.
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).

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