Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ethos of Personal Responsibility the Enemy of Commons-Based Thinking?

Yesterday, Gallup released new poll results showing that majorities (61%) of Americans say that “Americans themselves – rather than the government – have the primary responsibility for ensuring that they have health insurance.” Certainly, this reflects Americans’ long-standing skepticism over the role of government, but it also reflects a decline seen in other national polls in the belief that health care should be a government responsibility.

In some other polls, the decrease in support for the view that healthcare for all should be a governmental responsibility has declined pretty dramatically in the last year. In polls by both NYT/CBS and Fox News, support for the notion that healthcare should be the government’s responsibility fell from the mid-60% range down to 51% just in the months since Obama’s inauguration. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this decline has happened while healthcare reform – and a public alternative to private health insurance – has been the subject of heated debate in Congress and angry town hall meetings.

As progressive commentators have noted, part of the argument of the opponents of healthcare reform has been that the 47 million Americans without health insurance are deadbeats and that their tax dollars shouldn’t be used to provide for something [those people] should be providing for themselves.

This kind of victim blaming is antithetical to commons-based thinking, and has real impacts on American’s views on issues. This isn’t to say that personal responsibility has no place in the commons, but that a balance of personal and collective responsibility is what’s needed.

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