Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of Hammers and Healthcare: Understanding the Nature of "Rights"

Once Upon a Time, America reached a fork in the road....
Franklin D. Roosevelt 
“The Economic Bill of Rights”
Excerpt from 11 January 1944 message to Congress on the State of the Union
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
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 and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.

Fifty-five years later, what was a radical rethinking of our founding principles is considered common wisdom and uncontroversial dogma. More and more people believe that the "right" to these material objects is, in fact, the implementation of the Jeffersonian ideal.

"How can we have a right to live," they say, "without having the right to the food and medicine we require to live?"

"How can you have a moral right to life," they ask, "without being given the practicalvalues required to live it?"

Hence the "Economic Bill of Rights"

But this view of rights is not only impractical it is also, as I will demonstrate, entirely immoral. This supposed view of rights, so commonly held, is the mechanism by which our actual rights are being destroyed.

Thomas Jefferson
"Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights" --Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823. ME 15:441
"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."--Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:209, Papers 1:134
"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty" --Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770. FE 1:376
"What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals." ---Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:455, Papers 15:393
"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

I'm not a Republican or a Democrat. I'm an Objectivist. To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, I hold these truths to be rationally demonstrable: that men live, that they survive by the use of their minds, that they must work and produce to sustain their lives, that it is good for them to live self-sufficiently as morally autonomous individuals, and that the political expression of this hierarchy is the concept of 'rights' which are sanctions of action in a social context.

Man survives by use of his mind, and so he must be free to act on his own judgment. What is true of one man is true of all- so we must respect the rights of others. Political philosophy recognizes that we each have a delimited sphere of non-conflicting freedoms.

What must be banned from society is the initiation of physical force by one man against another. All rights therefore delimit the sphere of action in which each man has the right to function without force or threat of force.
The right to life is the right to BE- to live free from destruction: to not be robbed, beaten, tortured, coerced, defrauded.
The right to liberty is the right to ACT- not to be detained, held, imprisoned.
The right to property is the right to EARN- to possess the results of your actions without confiscation by force.
The right to PURSUE happiness is just that- the right to pursue those values that, by your rational judgment, will give you pleasure, happiness, joy.
Let's examine a different philosophy of rights- the modern idea that a right is a claim to an object or action that must be provided to the claimant.

Immediately, it begs the question- to be provided BY WHOM?

Instead of a delimited sphere of non-conflicting freedoms, this view of rights establishes a set of overlapping claims- things that each man may demand of other men.

In my view, this is a fundamental error in politics. It was introduced as a philosophical principle relatively recently in America- with FDR. It's philosophical roots go back further.

This view of rights actually invalidates and destroys the legitimate rights I list above.

What does it mean to have a "right" to an object (or service)?

Let's pick an object at random and imagine what it means to claim a right to the thing.

"I've got a Right to a HAMMER!"
Don't I? After all, I require shelter and I can't build a house without a hammer, so let's assert that each man, by virtue of his need, should be given a hammer with which to build.

Given -- by whom? Men aren't born with hammers. They don't exist in nature unless you count a rock which you could bang something with. But we're not talking about rocks, we're talking about a manufactured item called a hammer.

How do you implement the '"right" to this object? If I have a right to a hammer, who will provide me with one? The only answer is "those who possess hammers". (We might call them the "hammer-rich"). How did those people get the hammers? Since hammers are a manufactured item at some point no hammers existed anywhere. Someone had to invent the hammer, show others how to make them, trade the hammers, etc. Those who have hammers today amassed them either by making them, purchasing them, inheriting them, or stealing them.

If they made the hammers, they exerted the effort to smelt the metal, carve the wood, and assemble the hammer. By my view of rights, they own their own effort and the product of that effort.

If they bought the hammers, someone else may have exerted the effort of creation but the current owners still had to produce values- they had to grow wheat which they traded for the hammers or provide services which they exchanged for the hammers.

If they inherited the hammers, then the current owners did not exert the effort by which the hammers were originally bought, but someone did- and that person expressed their own right to dispose of their property as they chose. This same situation applies to any circumstance in which the hammer is given as a gift or as charity- the owner is exercising his property rights by choosing to give away the item.

If they stole the hammers, they violated the rights of others by force.

So by what right do you claim a hammer for yourself? You are not requiring yourself to exert any effort by which you earn the hammer. You're not manufacturing it or earning it by trade. No one is choosing to give you a hammer as inheritance. You are not receiving it voluntarily as a gift or as charity. You are claiming it by right!

You are claiming the right to the unearned property of others. You do not fall into the category of maker, earner or inheritor of the item. You merely demand it. And, if you establish this hypothetical right as a political principle, you expect the government to provide it to you.

But the government is not a manufacturer of hammers, or of anything. The government may absorb productive businesses by nationalization, but they cannot run them -- compulsion and innovation are incompatible. The government is that organization which is established to have the legal monopoly over the use of force in a geographical area. If you live in a free society, that government would be delimited to the defense, not the violation, of rights. But we are not talking about the system ofnon-conflicting rights I describe. We are talking about the implementation of your political idea: that the government must provide a different kind of "right" -- not the freedom of each man from each, but rather that the government must enforce those claims that each man may make on other men.

The implementation of your "right to a hammer" means that the government will take a hammer from some other person who possesses it and give it to you. So you are not the maker, earner or inheritor of the item- but instead fall into the last category -- you will have a hammer by theft.

You are not getting your own hands dirty. You are not taking the item you want directly by pulling a gun, by threatening some man's life or liberty, by denying him his right to pursue his own happiness and to enjoy his own property. You are demanding that the gun be pulled on your behalf by a third party.

The implementation of a "right to a hammer", in practice, requires that the government act as your agent to violate the life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness of some other man of its choosing- to steal his property and convey it into your possession. Each right that you claim in this manner, requires such a violation.
"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation" will necessitate violating the rights of the owners of those industries, shops, farms and mines to enter contracts and hire only by voluntary choice.
"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation" will necessitate violating the liberty and property of those who do not choose to pay more than has been voluntarily contracted.
"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living" will necessitate violating the liberty and property of the distributors and consumers who do not wish to pay more for products then they are worth.
"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad" requires the creation of anti-trust law, which is subsequently used by government to extort and control industry, to distort and violate the free market, and to deny the rights of property, freedom of trade and contract. It destroys justice, which is objective, and enshrines "fairness" imposed by the subjective whim of a government bureaucrat. (Monopolies, by the way, are only possible when the government intervenes. A government takeover of the entire health care industry would make the largest 'monopolistic' corporate merger look like nothing in comparison)
"The right of every family to a decent home" required violating the liberties of lenders, distorting markets, and eventually brought the financial industry to collapse.
"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health" violates the property rights of the taxpayers who must pay against their will, the doctors who cannot set their own prices and contracts, and gives the power of life and death to an omnipotent state.
"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment" requires the violation of the rights of the young, the well, the cautious, and the employed.
"The right to a good education" produces state-run indoctrination that is neither good nor educational.
Every "Economic Right" you demand sets the government in motion to violate the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Every cash transfer into your pocket is taken from someone else or is funded by printing money which is not backed by any physical commodity but is asserted to have value by the government. Yet, even then, each printing is funded by someone's productivity somewhere- either in current generations or else is passed on as trillions of dollars in obligations foisted on someone's children or grandchildren.

By declaring "Economic Rights", you establish a system, not of mutual independence where all values are received by mutual trade, but a system by which men are forced into gangs- each gang pressuring the government for his own share of the loot they demand by right which must be grabbed by force of arms off of some other citizen disarmed by law.

Note that the only man who is safe in this system is the man who produces nothing. In your system, the more a man works, the more he produces, the more he is a target. The greater the effort, the greater the ingenuity, the greater the wealth, the more a man is expected to provide to others without compensation. He is punished to the degree of his ability. The higher he rises, the greater his punishment.

The men who are safe are not the men of ability, but the men of need. The less you produce, the less you work, the more indigent and self destructive and debased you become, the more needs you have. If need is the standard, then the man with less than nothing is the King of Society.

This is true in principle and it is being demonstrated in practice the world over. It was the cause of the fall of the Soviet Union, and is the black rotten core of every collectivist system that preaches "From Each according to their Ability, to Each according to their Need"

Now, I don't think that those of you who advocate Universal Health Care want any of this or know that this is the only means by which your ends can be accomplished. I don't think you’re consciously advocating a collectivist slave society or anything of the sort. You are, on the whole, kind people acting out of benevolence and according to a generally accepted (though mistaken) premise. But whether you know it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you'll admit it or not, a slave society is what you're advocating in principle and what you will enshrine in practice. It is merely a matter of degree and time.

As soon as any man can claim an object as a right, the government will begin to expand into a tyranny. Once the principle is violated and the government turns from the defender into the violator of rights, the path is set and- twisty though the road may be- it leads to total slavery of every man to every other with the government holding the whip. That destination is inevitable unless the principle of rights is restored.

Bad rights drive out good rights.

In less than sixty years, the entire political underpinning of the American System has been subverted and reversed. At this rate in sixty more years (probably less) we will be a dictatorship.

We are on the road to hell, my friends. Let us turn back to that fork in the road and reconsider the path we've been taking.

-Richard Gleaves

Note: What I have to point out to my Republican friends (I am not a Republican but an Objectivist) is that the moral teachings of the Christian religion are in direct conflict with the view I have presented above. The degree of your religiosity is what disarms and unmans you. You cannot preach for capitalism while teaching that each man is his brother's keeper. It is one or the other. While you are free to act on your religious convictions privately to motivate your personal charity, once you inject your moral view of the necessity of self sacrifice into the political realm, that morality will undercut your every defense of rights. Obama practices the secular version of what you preach in your religion. He merely makes compulsory what you hold to be merely obligatory. I invite all Republicans who are Christians for the sake of the next world to become Objectivists when speaking of this world. A philosophy of reason and rights is what is needed now, and a rational defense of individualism. One's personal convictions about the soul and it's judgement after death are just that- personal. They are not justifiable in reason and faith is not open to public debate. As we see from theocratic nations abroad, nations that cannot justify their principles in reason are condemned to impose them by force. In order to work and deal with each other as rational beings, we need an objective framework upon which we can all agree. Objectivism is a secular moral system teaching the virtue of rational self-interest. If you would like to be well armed in the political arena, this is the pro-life morality you must espouse in the political realm. I invite you to look into it.


To my Democrat friends, I am in complete sympathy with those of you who are Democrats because you believe in equality for all. The Republican views on such matters as gay marriage etc have been abhorrent- but they are views that come from their religion, not from reason or an understanding of rights. The "center way" we are searching for will involve the recognition of individual rights for ALL people. It also requires the recognition that no one has the right to use the government as a piggy bank- not the poor, and certainly not the rich. Crony capitalism is an evil and is practiced by both parties, though as practiced by religious republicans (who preach one thing and do another) it has the added reek of hypocrisy. The solution is freedom and reason. Let's work together to achieve them. Thank you for your time and attention, all. RG

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