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Volume 26 • Number 4

October 2012



 

 

American Inequality and the Idea of Personal Responsibility


by Joshua Broady Preiss


In terms of income and wealth (and a variety of other measures), citizens of the United States are significantly less equal than their peers in Canada and Europe. In addition, American society is becoming increasingly less equal. Some theorists argue that this inequality is inefficient. Others claim that it is unjust. Many Americans, however, are less concerned with the potential inefficiency and injustice of growing inequality. Distinguishing as Milton Friedman does between equality of result and equality of opportunity, many claim that American inequality is greater because our social and political institutions hold individuals responsible for their decisions. There is nothing unjust about holding individuals responsible for their choices or preferences. This political philosophy builds from the popular idea that, in the words of Dennis Prager of the Heritage Foundation, "American individualism and the Judeo-Christian notion of personal accountability gave us the extraordinary nation that we built here." At least since the publication of the Republican Party's Contract with America, every prominent Republican (and many Democrats) has affirmed the importance of personal responsibility. The idea of personal responsibility plays a central role in debates over how to structure US society.


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Public Affairs Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.


ISSN: 2152-0542