Monday, March 15, 2010

What are Rights?

Over the years I have heard many people talk about their having a right for this and a right for that. They have a right to health care, to education, to housing, to low price car insurance. They have the right to own a dog in an apartment, the right to low fat butter, the right to thinly sliced lunch meat. The point is that people often feel that they have a right to do, or more often get supplied to them, just about anything they want.

Today, our country is in the midst of a discussion regarding universal health care. One of the primary statements I hear from its supporters is that all Americans have the right to affordable health care. That health care ought to be equitable. All of us should have equal access to equal quality health care at a cost that each can afford. One could say, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Of course one would only say that if their name was Karl Marx.

It is interesting to note that Marx issued this statement in the Critique of the Gotha Program; a paper that helps describe the transition from capitalism to socialism.

But I digress.

If you are going to claim rights, you had best know what a right is. You should know what a right looks like, what its attributes are, where it comes from, and to what sort of things it applies. If there is a quick “rule-of-thumb” to determine if something is rightfully claimed.

Is there a quick way to decide if something is a right?

Before I share with you, faithful reader, a quick way to determine if something is a right; I feel as if I should distinguish the difference between the two types of rights: natural and civil.

A natural right is one that is inalienable, endowed with by your creator, one you are born with. It belongs to all people, regardless of origin, race, creed, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), and nationality. People in China, Iran, France, Chile, and the United States all have these rights.

A civil right, however, is one that a nation or society has deemed worthy of governmental protection. This protection of rights is the primary function of governments: That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,… Most of the Bill of Rights covers civil rights. Examples would be the right to keep and bear arms.

So what is the definition of a natural right?

All it requires of another is forbearance (thanks Dr. Koch for telling me this in college). defines forbearance as “the act of forbearing; a refraining from something.” All you have to do is not stop me. It requires nothing from another beyond allowing it to happen.

Free speech is a right; you don’t have to listen, you just have to not stop me. Free worship is a right; you can worship in whatever way you wish as long as it doesn’t require me to be involved (example, requiring a church). If you want to sit in your backyard and worship a cactus and its lizard priests that’s fine; if you send your lizard priests to attack the infidel next door, that’s a problem.

Freedom of expression is a natural right. You can think and believe whatever you like. You can believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen, you can think there was a massive cover-up regarding the assassination of President Kennedy (though I’m pretty sure that making a movie based upon this thought is a violation of something, at the very least it ought to be), or that the government is somehow hiding evidence of extraterrestrial contact. Unfortunately, knowledge is not a natural right; our society has determined that the propagation of knowledge is a civil right.

So, as of now, health care is not a right. In my opinion, it should not be a civil right. America has the greatest system of health care in the world. Do we all have equal access? No, we don’t. We likely never will. A country as large as this, with a people as diverse as we are, with people all across the economic spectrum will have great difficulty ever creating a system that grants equal access to all. I live in a rural part of Arizona and my options are limited. We have a limited pool of doctors, one hospital, and a minimum two hour drive to find something different.

This is likely an insurmountable problem. The point is that I made the choice to live here. I chose this place because of the quality life; I didn’t want to be near seven different hospitals, hundreds of doctors, and several major universities. I chose Lake Havasu City in spite of the limit it would place on my access to restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, and major sports teams. Do we legislate the number of movie theaters required based upon population? Do we legislate the types of movies they show so that I get a chance to see those small, indie films that always seem to be nominated for Oscars®?

The doctors chose Lake Havasu City for the same reason: quality of life. They chose to make less money to live here. I don’t know it, but I’m reasonably certain that a doctor in New York City will make more money than our local doctors. This reason alone makes providing equal health care where I live possible only by nationalizing health care and sending doctors not where they want to go, but where the government determines they should go. I’m sure most Americans would find this kind of thing unpalatable.

Most Americans have access to quality health care. For the most part, if you have more money, you have access to better health care. Much like if you have more money you can buy a better car, a bigger TV, or a bigger house. Health care is not a car or TV. You can live without a car or TV, but, ultimately, most people will have need for a doctor eventually.

Health care needs to be reformed, but this is not the way. People need to take control of their health care. People need to find out what a visit to the doctor actually costs, not just what the co-pay is. People need to start creating health savings plans and accept responsibility for managing their own health care. Here’s what John Stossel said about it.

Americans need to exercise their buying power in such a way that doctors providing quality health care at lower prices are busiest. The free market will then drive down prices as doctors realize how much they charge matters. Remove the price controls set by the insurance companies and allow the market to do its work.

America is built upon the concept of self-determination. We the people need to solve the problem instead of looking to the government to solve it. The government can do two things well: Collect taxes and kill people. Government run health care will help them in the latter and cause a great increase in the former.

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