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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blameworthy fire fighting

Among the most promising of my unpursued ideas is found in a paper written ten years ago for an administrative ethics conference in Brisbane (which I think I've mentioned in a previous blog post -- but I can't seem to find it). In it I develop a pretty elaborate argument and framework for the idea that a sense of "blameworthiness" is central to understanding modern accountability in the administrative state. Every so often I read or hear of a case study that reminds me that I have to dust off that paper and take it to the next level.

That was my thought as I listened on my iPod to a segment of yesterday's Weekend America broadcast on Holding a Fire Fighter's Feet to the Fire (to go direct to audio, click here).

[In case I had not mentioned it before (and I thought I had -- but again, can't seem to find it via a search), Weekend America is perhaps the most refreshing new "news magazine" (I think that is what they might call it) to come along in years public radio or elsewhere. Segments like this one are typical, and I have added it to my weekly 'must listen' on the weekend (the other is "On the Media"). Interestingly, neither is actually produced by NPR, but rather American Public Media (for Weekend America) and WNYC (for OTM).]

As for the Fire Fighter segment, it offers a great example of the role that liability now plays in the lives of these folks, especially as the country has turned increasingly toward litigiousness. This clearly has an impact on the way firefighters and others think about their jobs -- and even poses ethical dilemmas (which I have written about in greater detail). My point in the 1996 paper is that liability is merely a part of a broader system of blameworthy-based accountability that has been developing for more than a thousand years. I go so far as to contend that this blameworthiness-as-accountability is the defining characteristic of modern governance.

Maybe this is the year that I attempt to put all this into a more presentable form. I certainly will not want for examples.....

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