"I like fiery passion, actually." - Olympus
Question #92364 posted on 07/04/2019 8:24 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

We hear a lot today about how people have a "right to food, housing, health care, education, etc." I don't remember which answers or writers have specifically mentioned these in previous answers, but I recall reading a few posts about it. While I personally disagree strongly with this idea (based on the idea that you do not have a right to force someone to provide you a good/service), I'd appreciate hearing a rationalization for this perspective.

How do you justify the idea of personal liberty and the right to personal property with the right of people to have the aforementioned things?

-Genuinely Curious

A:

Dear curious, 

First of all, I think Luciana says this far more eloquently than me, so read her answer first and then come back here.

Okay, now I've almost definitely said something along those lines, so I figure I should defend my stance. In the United States founding documents, there are two quotes that stand out to me: 

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…"

and 

"...in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

Are we really protecting our citizens and their right to life if they're starving or frozen because they don't have somewhere to stay? Sure, it's not realistic that we really can feed and house everyone that struggles... but it's a self-determined purpose of our government to try to protect those people, if you ask me. Their right to life is severely limited if we don't care for basic needs. Additionally, they are not free to exercise liberty or pursue happiness if their basic needs are not met. The same applies to healthcare. If current wages for a full-time employee can't cover living expenses, much less health care or anything else, then it seems like we're failing somewhere. So we should do our very best to protect those people, or else we are denying them the very things that were defined as unalienable rights. That seems... problematic. 

I agree with your statement that you don't have the right to force someone to provide you with goods and services. But the government isn't quite the same thing as a private entity with specific private property rights. By creating policies that "promote the general welfare," we are fulfilling our purpose as outlined in the Constitution and taking care of constituents. We aren't violating anyone's rights. If anything, we're actually enabling more people to access their rights.  In my view, we don't even need to increase taxes to get there, we just need to reevaluate our budget (properly, instead of getting into a standoff and being stubborn like a bunch of children and then just shutting down the government for an entire month.) 

I also wonder, who decided to monetize those things in the first place? I have separate feelings about how stupid it is for someone to capitalize on something that used to be a shared resource, especially by overcharging and taking advantage of other people for personal gain... I mean, let's get real: private ownership of basic necessities like water and shelter is a human construct. We are the ones that made it all about money. In other words, we took what used to be free and accessible (land, water, shelter) and decided we cared more about greed and money than about basic humanity. We even criminalize the people who try to make their own shelter because it's on "our land." Which, in itself is cruel and not very sensible, considering the history of the land in the first place. We stole it and made it monetized, and if that's not the dumbest thing ever...  

And that's what it comes down to for me. Do we prioritize money and property, both fundamentally useless human constructs (if/when crap hits the fan, neither of these things will have any meaning), or do we prioritize human life and decency? Easy answer. 

Not everything falls under that umbrella though... I don't actually think education, cell phones, public transit, the Internet, etc. fall under the same category, because those are not necessary for human life or liberty. We've made access to those things easier, which is really excellent. I do think that the more public goods there are, the better a country is - it's better serving its citizens. But, those public goods are not technically part of its responsibility. These kinds of things are more complicated than just "we should give every person free EVERYTHING!" because that isn't the case, and it isn't sustainable. But we do have a responsibility as a country to protect the lives and welfare of our citizens, and food, shelter, and affordable health care access are the first places to start. 

I don't think you actually disagree with that idea, but rather you disagree with how it should be implemented. I think I'm thinking more on a theoretical plane (this is something we should be doing, this should be an aim of government) and you are likely thinking more along the lines of how realistic the whole thing is (sure, maybe we should do this, but we won't because...) It doesn't seem likely that you think people should starve to death, rather, we simply discuss the topic in different ways, and disagree on how the problem should be approached. And that's perfectly alright. In fact, I'm glad you made me think about this. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

A:

Dear George,

To me, the principles of personal liberty and right to private property mean a few things, namely:

  1. The government protects my rights and property.
  2. The government does this while taking away as little of my freedoms or resources as necessary.
  3. I am free to choose my own destiny. If I want to be poor I can be poor. If I want to be well off and provide for my family, that is within my realm of possibilities.
  4. We guarantee these same rights for everyone, including those of future generations.
  5. We should seek to improve and expand the personal liberty and freedoms for those in our communities.
Some people look at these principles and decide that, to uphold them, the government should leave securing food, education, health care, and housing entirely up to the people. Others look at these same principles and decide that the government should help provide food, education, health care, and housing for their citizens. I personally believe that the government should help in those regards because that helps make our country fair and productive, which will ultimately lead to to better outcomes for everyone.
 
There is strong evidence to show that if you grow up poor it is hard to get out of poverty. I would recommend reading this set of 14 graphs on economic mobility in the US. The graphs are pretty unreal and do a good job of demonstrating that principle. While we like to think that America is a land of economic opportunity (and it still very much is), it's hard for poorer people to reach that. I have friends in high school that couldn't do as well in school because they had to work to support their family. I have friends that haven't gone to college because they can't afford it. I know people whose families have lost nearly everything due to medical expenses.

The point of the last paragraph is to show how much of our personal freedoms are out of our hands. Just by being born in a poor family or by getting sick, your road to economic prosperity can be seriously hindered due to no fault of your own. When hardworking people can't afford to go to college, or start businesses, we lose that economic value. Sure, paying for the services would necessitate a raise in taxes, but they could have a better more broad economic impact on our citizenship. (We could also stand to spend less on our Defense budget but that's a rant for another day.)
 
The Government helping people afford food, housing, health care, and education may seem radical or socialist, but there are already ways that we're doing this that are successful and could be expanded to better serve our citizens. Here are some examples:
 
  • Food: School lunch and summer programs are great because they specifically help children. If adults budget poorly and don't have food that is a consequence of their own actions, but children shouldn't have to go hungry because their parents can't pay for food. Food stamps are also good because they cannot be used on things other than food. So we don’t have to worry about food stamps being used on drugs or alcohol.
  • Housing: Utah especially could use some affordable housing. Housing prices are too dang high, and there's not enough affordable housing. This wouldn't even require government subsidized housing necessarily. Opening up zoning would allow the market to adjust itself and create more reasonable housing prices for everyone
  • Health Care: I feel like we should have social health care. The insurance industry makes so much money. Especially since the Affordable Care Act set an insurance requirement, insurance prices have just shot up. If we just went to social health care we could lower health care costs for a lot of families.
  • Education: FAFSA is a great program that helps students afford to go to college without taking on large amounts of debt. I would have a hard time getting through school without FAFSA. Education is really important to economic mobility, and I feel like expanding FAFSA would be a good way to make education more available for everyone.
Anyways, I believe that providing these things would make the United States a more fair place for everyone and help everyone have the freedom and mobility that the USA should represent.
 
Peace,
Tipperary
A:

Dear GC,

I agree with you on a theoretical basis. If I had food and a starving person approached me, they have no right to take my food if I am unwilling to share it. The same applies to the concept of a roof over my head, a Band-Aid, or a textbook. The basic concept of ownership assures that my possession of something should not be violated, even if someone else has greater need. I have my agency and my autonomy.

However, the basic concept of government somewhat modifies those standards. A human being is born with few inherent rights, though government theorists might profess that an organized government ought to protect and ensure the right to concepts like life, liberty, and property. Those assurances are the primary benefits of government, and theoretically the reason we are willing to give up some degree of our power and live in a governed society.

By voluntarily living under a government regime and by paying taxes, we are in essence investing in a sort of social insurance (at least in my view). We agree to obey the law in exchange for certain protections. However, the specific protections offered vary by government, and ideas about what the government ought to insure vary widely. In the United States, we profess to believe in the right of every human to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Those are vague concepts to legislate, but they are a driving force in political discussion. Many people believe that food, housing, health care, and education are included in those definitions and ought to be provided by government in the event citizens are unable to earn it for themselves.

So in essence, the government does have the right to take things from me because I have given them that right. I pay my taxes and the government uses that money in part to help ensure the people they profess to protect have their basic human needs met. The U.S. government does at least to some degree believe that food, housing, health care, and education fall into the category of basic human needs. They don't take primary responsibility for ensuring each citizen possesses those things, but they are willing to step in and provide assistance when necessary.

When people claim that we as human beings have a "right" to something, they probably aren't referring to rights inherent from birth. They are referring to services the government insures.

I'm a fiscal conservative so I believe in limited government, but I'm still grateful to live in a country where the government cares if I starve, freeze, or die of something easily treatable. I'm glad they insure certain rights.

Love,

Luciana

A:

Dear Aziraphale,

I have to agree that people don't intrinsically have the right to demand these things of other people. However, I do think that as humans we have a societal responsibility to provide food, healthcare, housing, etc. for people.

~Anathema