400 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
- Toll Free 1.888.564.6273
- Local 202.783.3870
Before government can guarantee provision of a specific good or service to any one individual, thus creating a so-called “positive right,” it must first take by force the means of producing that very good or service from someone else.
Health care is no different. Whether by forcibly appropriating and redistributing the money to purchase care for those who lack it, or by arbitrarily devaluing the time and effort of those who provide it, once a government mandate supplants voluntary exchange, coercion must be used to exercise that “right.”
But how can taking what belongs to another person (their money, time, or effort) through legislative force be a right?
Is that not the very essence of slavery?
The truth is that the only rights actually guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution are those that protect freedom of action. They are “negative rights,” which do exactly the opposite of their positive counterparts. Rather than initiate and rely on the use of force to produce a specific reward or outcome, negative rights allow individuals to act or not act in the absence of coercion, so long as they do not hinder the freedom of others to do the same.
For instance, it is the right of people in this country to vocalize unpopular opinions, associate with unpopular people, practice unpopular religions, and even carry unpopular weapons. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say that, in order to exercise their rights, each citizen must at birth be given a microphone, a bible, or a gun.
That was no accident. For more than two hundred years, the freedom and responsibility to determine one’s own future has been the foundation of America’s unparalleled success. But the critical role played by negative rights has become less and less clearly understood over time.
Many of this country’s most celebrated leaders have manipulated that ignorance, redefining rights as unearned rewards for politically favored groups; payoffs thinly veiled in the pious rhetoric of social justice.
FDR himself was among the worst. The abject failure of the New Deal notwithstanding, FDR proposed to codify his authoritarian progressive agenda in a constitutional amendment, as the “Economic Bill of Rights.” It reads like a list that could just as easily have flowed from the pen of Karl Marx:
The right to a useful and remunerative job…
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition…
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care…
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
Besides being, as any Russian can attest, economically disastrous and utterly impossible to define or achieve, the biggest problem with FDR’s list of “rights” was that it sought to make America into a nation of serfs.
The logic is inescapable. Once something has been deemed a “right” by those in government, the ability of every person who produces or consumes that good or service to engage in voluntary transactions with the fruit of their own labor is stolen. Their labor is then owned and administered by agents of the collective.
Again, I ask: Is that not the very essence of slavery?
There is no doubt that freedom entails risk, and America has not always lived up to the promise of her founding. But when certain people or groups pervert the notion of rights, harnessing the power of government to take by force what they desire but have not earned, then negative freedom becomes a positive tyranny. Let us hope that more Americans, before it is too late, learn how to tell the difference.
A version of this article was originally published at The D.C. Writeup.