Kris Morgan 6/4/2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making headlines once again. This time the Democratic Socialist is speaking as though access to affordable housing is a right. She made her point during a town-hall meeting hosted by Housing Justice for All. “Housing, she says, should be legislated as a human right. What does that mean? It means that our access and our guarantee to having a home comes before someone else’s privilege to earn a profit.” After hearing about her proposal to make housing a ‘legislated right’, like most other libertarians, I gathered that she probably has no clue where rights come from. Unfortunately, she is not alone.
Back in 2017 The Daily Beast ran an article titled “The GOP’s twisted Reality, Where Guns Are A Right But Healthcare is a Privilege.” Author Michael Tamasky made a series of errors concerning the concept of rights which we can use to clarify the idea. This is important because, as the title of his piece reflects, there are those who fail to understand why some consider the right to own a gun sacred, yet won’t acknowledge the right to healthcare.
First, Tamasky used the dialogue between Republican Senator Johnson of Wisconsin and a High School student as a segway into republican ideas on rights. After the student asked if healthcare was a right, Senator Johnson replied “I think it’s probably more of a privilege. Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right? What we have as rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right to freedom. Past that point, everything else is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us so that we can afford those things.”
In the very next paragraph, Mr. Tamasky reacted with more than a touch of hyperbole: “There’s your Republican philosophy in a nutshell: Americans have no right to health care, but they do have the right to own as many assault rifles as they can get their hands on and go shoot up a concert venue.” Ignoring the part about everything being a limited resource that we use our opportunities to attain purchasing power to afford things was his first mistake. To his credit he did acknowledge this point, albeit not before making another blunder.
A key difference between the way the left and everyone else discusses rights is only the left includes funding and/or the labor of others in their definitions. For example, to conservatives and libertarians, the right to bear arms does not entail the right to a government-issued weapon, or policing sellers who wish to refuse customers from doing so. However, when the left discusses healthcare, they maintain that having others provide and pay for it is a right. This is where Tamasky went off course again. He attempted to promote the creation of an artificial right using a cost-benefit analysis.
“It costs us, and society, a lot more money than keeping people decently fed and medically cared for in the first place. And that’s part of the reason why, along with just plain old decency, many societies have decided that some goods are rights. Some degree of medical care or public health is guaranteed to citizens in more than half the world’s constitutions.”
It should be self-evident that rights are not based on whether a person or a people are going to save money by doing things differently. If this were so, one could deduce our individual finances ought to be under the lens of bureaucrats constantly making sure we are spending our money wisely. As though in the same breath, Tamasky jumps from one mistake to another by suggesting rights come from the constitution.
“But the Constitution, you say! It gives us only political rights. True. But we’ve changed the Constitution 17 times (after the Bill of Rights), and we can do it anytime we want. There’s nothing inherently un-American about making health care a right. We simply have to decide it’s so.”
The problem is our rights don’t come from the constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any other document. Suppose we took a vote and gave white people the right to own minority servants, would the Daily Beast ever publish such an opinion? Would people of this sort of thinking have the courage to stand up and say all rights were respected because we took a vote and altered the constitution?
Tamasky makes one final blunder. He closes his article by saying “our definition of rights changes over the course of time, and rights are whatever the deliberative majority decides they are.”
Our understanding of rights may change over time, but they are not merely what a majority of people decide they are. In the libertarian view, all human beings have material needs and no life is worth more than another. This leads us to conclude that each of us has the right to peacefully acquire, consume, and dispose of property without interference from others. In this sense, the right to home-ownership, healthcare, and guns are the same; we may pursue such goods and services through peaceful means without intrusion from others, and defend our property against anyone wanting to infringe on it. Unfortunately Mr. Tamasky, through all his mental gymnastics, never bothered to look at rights from the perspective of property. We can’t help but wonder why that is.
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