Yascha Mounk in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

Yascha Mounk in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

In its Winter 2017 issue, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas published an essay by Transatlantic Academy Fellow Yascha Mounk entitled "Responsibility Redefined," based on his book The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice and the Welfare State, forthcoming in June 2017 with Harvard University Press.

"Ever since Ronald Reagan promised to make 'free enterprise and personal responsibility' a central theme of his presidency, talk about responsibility has become an important part of American political life," Mounk writes. "After Reagan, similar appeals quickly entered the vocabulary of liberal politicians and even egalitarian philosophers... Responsibility has quickly become central to the political imagination throughout North America, Western Europe, and beyond. Economic questions that might have been settled from the point of view of structural considerations—say, the likely macroeconomic effect of making welfare payments conditional—now turn on the deeply moralized determination of individual action and culpability."

Mounk argues that "this punitive focus on the actions of particular individuals is deeply pernicious. It leads us to underestimate what we owe our fellow citizens irrespective of their choices. It encourages us to disregard the larger structural factors that shape the most important economic outcomes... If we are to reestablish the foundations for the broad-based prosperity on which democracy’s stability has always depended, it’s all the more urgent that we overcome a single-minded focus on personal responsibility that has narrowed what kinds of policy ideas we take seriously, and what kinds of economic institutions we can envisage. It is time to rethink the meaning—and indeed the promise—of responsibility."

The full essay can be read here.