Monday, October 13, 2008

Williams on Health Care and Rights

Blogger Michael Williams discusses why health care is not a right. He correctly notes that rights impose only negative obligations on people, not positive entitlements. Here are a few excerpts from his essay:
...[T]hink about what it would mean for health care to be a right. When you consider the ramifications even an inch beneath the surface you run into all sorts of problems.

Every right one person has imposes an obligation on someone else:

* Right: Free speech. Obligation: We have to let you talk, even when you stay stupid or dangerous things.
* Right: Free religion. Obligation: We have to let you go to any church you want, or none at all, even if we think you're corrupting our country.
* Right: Free assembly. Obligation: We have to let you meet with your dumb friends.
* Right: Due process. Obligation: We have to give you a trial, even when it's clear that you're guilty.

...With the exception of the right to trial-by-jury, I think all the rights specified in the Constitution create negative obligations on the rest of society. Your right obligates me and the government to not do anything to impede it. In contrast, positive obligations require me not just to leave you alone, but to actually do something for your benefit.
He notes that any alleged "right" to health care actually means the following:
* Taxpayers will be obligated to pay for others' health care under threat of force
* Doctors will be obligated to provide health care at the government's direction
* Insurance companies will be obligated to cover or not cover people or ailments at the government's direction
* Employers will be obligated to pay for health care of whatever kind mandated by the government

The issue of health care really cuts to the core of the difference between leftists and conservatives.

Conservatives believe that "rights" express our fundamental freedoms that cannot be taken away by anyone. The only obligations created by conservative "rights" are negative obligations that require you to stay out of my business.

Leftists believe that "rights" express obligations that the government can impose on us by force. Leftist "rights" create obligations on us to spend our time, money, and effort on other people regardless of our own desires. That's not freedom, that's slavery.
He is absolutely correct in his assessment that entitlement rights are just a form of state-sanctioned slavery. And I completely agree with his major points.

For a discussion and defense of the nature of individual rights on fundamental philosophical grounds, I highly recommend the classic essay by Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights".

I do have two additional remarks.

First, the biggest problems with modern conservatives is that too many are deliberately straying from the classical liberal ideals of an earlier generation marked by a respect for individual rights. When self-described "conservatives" advocate for more government interference with individual rights, such as Mitt Romney's mandatory insurance requirement in Massachusetts or McCain's calls for greater environmental regulations, the political debate then becomes between different forms of statism, not between freedom and slavery. This is painfully obvious in the current 2008 election cycle. Professor Bradley Thompson has written a detailed analysis of the problems with modern conservatism in this The Objective Standard article, "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism".

Second, I think one can make an argument that jury duty can and should be voluntary. But this is a very minor and peripheral issue, better suited for a different venue.