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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Natural Rights vs Government Rights

In the context of a discussion about open immigration, the brilliant libertarian blog Coyote Blog discusses the issue of rights and governments. This squarely lays out the philosophic difference between libertarians (and our Founding Fathers I submit) and Liberals (the 20th Century breed of big government types).

He writes:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen. Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings...

With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights. These newly described "rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above. Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government. These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Here is a great test to see if something is really a right, vs. one of these fake rights. Ask yourself, "can I have this right on a desert island". Speech? Have at it. Assembly? Sure, if there is anyone or things to assemble with? Property? Absolutely -- if you convert some palm trees with your mind and labor into a shelter, that's your home. Health care? Uh, how? Who is going to provide it? And if someone could provide it, who is going to force them to provide it if they don't want to. Ditto education. Ditto a pension.

These non-right rights all share one thing in common: They require the coercive power of the government to work. They require that the government take the product of one person's labor and give it to someone else. They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will.

The Liberals seem to want these government rights as an obligation to all citizens even though the cost is enormous to the opportunities of those given the entitled rights to provide for themselves. They will tell you they would prefer the poor to have jobs like they do, good educations like they have and the right to choose lifestyles like they do. But the poor need their helping hand. All of this is belied by historical evidence (which they ignore).

A few years back an old friend of mine advised me how her brother commuted from lower Rhode Island to Boston every day by train. It took him over 2 hours each way. She harrumphed how there could be direct train rides from lower RI to Boston which could cut his commute time considerably but the government will not support improving the train systems "in this country".
There are so many assumptions in that statement that are false.

First, by using the term government, it means I have to pay taxes to support government's provision of this enhanced train service. Why do I have to pay higher taxes to support her brother's personal choice to live so far from his job?

Second is the assumption that train travel is a benefit to America. If it is then why is ridership on the existing lines so poor. A WSJ editorial from 1/29/02 stated:

[Amtrak] actually saw ridership decrease after September 11, even with a long shutdown of the nation's airspace, many people afraid to fly and new security hassles at airports. Amtrak's 2001 operating loss was a record $1.1 billion, according to a Transportation Department report released Friday.

So people are making choices with their wallets and time by eschewing the train services provided.

The friend's message showed an expectation that I was obligated to subsidize her brother's commutation costs. That is not his right. This is the essence of our Constitutional debates.


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