Right versus wishes
Walter E. Williams
9/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Walter E. Williams
We hear so much about "rights" -- a right to this and a right to
that. People say they have a right to decent housing, a right to adequate
health care, food and a decent job, and more recently, senior citizens have
a right to prescription drugs. In a free society, do people have these
rights? Let's look at it.
At least in the standard historical usage of the term, a right
is something that exists simultaneously among people. A right confers no
obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we
all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another
except that of non-interference. Similarly, I have a right to travel freely.
That right imposes no obligation upon another except that of
Contrast those rights to the supposed right to decent housing or
medical care. Those supposed rights do confer obligations upon others. There
is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. If you don't have money to pay for decent
housing or medical services, and the government gives you a right to those
services, where do you think the money comes from?
If you said "From some other American," go to the head of the
class. Your right to decent housing and medical care requires that some
other American have less of something else, namely diminished rights to his
Let's apply this bogus concept of rights to free speech and the
right to travel freely. If we were to apply it to my right to free speech,
my free speech rights would confer financial obligations on others to supply
me with an auditorium, microphone and audience. My right to travel freely
would require that others provide me with airplane tickets and hotel
accommodations. Most Americans, I would imagine, would tell me, "Williams,
yes you have rights to free speech and travel rights, but I'm not obligated
to pay for them!"
As human beings, we all have certain unalienable rights. Of the
rights we possess, we have a right to delegate to government. For example,
we all have a right to defend ourselves against predators. Since we possess
that right, we can delegate it to government. In other words, we can say to
government, "We have the right to defend ourselves, but for a more orderly
society, we give you the authority to defend us."
By contrast, I don't possess the right to take your earnings for
any reason. Since I have no such right, I cannot delegate it to government.
If I did take your earnings for housing and medical services, it would
rightfully be described as an act of theft. When government does it, it's
still theft -- the only difference is that it's legalized theft sanctioned
by a majority vote.
If you're a Christian or simply a moral human being, you should
be against these so-called rights. After all, when God gave Moses the Eighth
Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," I'm sure that he didn't mean thou shalt
not steal unless there is a majority vote in Congress. Moreover, I'm sure
that if you were to have a heart-to-heart conversation with God and asked
him, "God, is it OK to be a recipient of stolen property, property that
Congress has taken from another American?" I'm guessing He'd say that being
a recipient of stolen property is also sinful.
Decent housing, good medical care and decent jobs are not rights
at all, at least not in a free society -- they're wishes. As such, I'd agree
with most Americans because I also wish that everyone had decent housing, a
high paying job and good medical care.