Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why the Agency Argument is Flawed

Sorry it's been so long since I last updated. I've been busy with classes but the results have been worth it. Check it out. 

The agency argument is one of the most popular opinions in American politics. It’s smeared on nearly every conversation regarding why people act the way they do; from crime to employment to being duped by credit card agencies. And once I begin to tell you how it goes, I’m sure you can fill in the rest. 
The Agency argument goes something like this; people’s lives are their own personal responsibility. Any misfortune they fall under is a result of poor management of their lives and they should have done things differently. In discussions about the mortgage crisis, this argument takes the form of “Why did those people agree to purchase houses they couldn’t afford?”. In discussions about being laid off, the argument takes the form of “They weren’t working hard enough. If they were working hard enough they wouldn’t be in their situation. God, they need to get their shit together.” And when people fall into credit card debt, it rears its ugly head again. “Maybe if they weren’t impulsively shopping they wouldn’t be stuck paying off their debts at 28% interest”.

Usually when people use this claim they don’t even look into the story before coming to their conclusion. Debt, for instance. Most people who fall into debt aren’t greedy people. Most people, assuming a steady income, made a large purchase like a car or a refrigerator and then lost their job in a down economy and couldn’t find employment. They then used credit cards to fund schemes that would hope to bring in enough money to get them out of debt, like a cheap computer and internet service to help with the job hunt, which of course only puts them into more debt. And that's not even considering student loans. How are you going to tell someone that they shouldn't have gone to college if they couldn't have afforded it?

But don’t tell that to the guy swinging the Agency argument like a barbarian swinging a warhammer in a china store (Remember, it's the twelve sided die). He’ll probably call you Un-American. The great thing about the agency argument is that it doesn’t require an understanding of the players and the situation for you to criticize them. Any person in plight anywhere? Their fault! Now let’s come up with a reason why. This argument halts debate on real issues because victims now have to prove that they aren’t someone “looking for a handout” before any action can take place.

But it’s flawed. You wanna know why? Because it has no limits. Where does it end? Where does an appeal to “personal responsibility” end? From Bill O’Reilly to Rush Limbaugh, I have yet to hear a single claim that beyond a certain point citizens alone are not responsible for what happens to them. There is no acknowledgment of anything that exists outside the individual. It's crazy, and anyone who believes it is crazy. So next time you hear the Agency argument used to unjustly stall debate, call it out for what it is: a rash, uninformed criticism designed to prevent change and blame victims.


  1. It seems very christian, i.e. bad things happened to you because you deserve it.

  2. Exactly, homie. I'm going to do another post on how the culture of America has been shifted to stifle dissent and genuine democracy.