Free Markets, Free People

The “right” to health care

One of the things I most admire about Walter Williams is his ability to succinctly state a point. In this case the point is about the false assertion that health care is a “right”. The primary argument against such a “right”:

True rights, such as those in our Constitution, or those considered to be natural or human rights, exist simultaneously among people. That means exercise of a right by one person does not diminish those held by another. In other words, my rights to speech or travel impose no obligations on another except those of non-interference. If we apply ideas behind rights to health care to my rights to speech or travel, my free speech rights would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with an auditorium, television studio or radio station. My right to travel freely would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with airfare and hotel accommodations.

This is the argument that the left tries to wave away. They do so on various grounds. “Well, it’s the humane thing to do”. Or, “we’re a better society than one which lets people go uninsured”. Or, ‘we owe it to the less fortunate”. Always the imperial “we” in which they decide to force an obligation on others using the power of government. And it all stems from a basic misunderstanding of “rights”.

No “right” as defined by the Constitution (a statement of law) or Declaration of Independence (a statement of philosophy undergirding our country’s law) impose obligations on others for their exercise. What they do impose is a responsibility of non-interference which allows others to exercise their rights. But, as Williams points out, the “right” to health care does impose an obigation on others for that person to exercise their “right”:

Say a person, let’s call him Harry, suffers from diabetes and he has no means to pay a laboratory for blood work, a doctor for treatment and a pharmacy for medication. Does Harry have a right to XYZ lab’s and Dr. Jones’ services and a prescription from a pharmacist? And, if those services are not provided without charge, should Harry be able to call for criminal sanctions against those persons for violating his rights to health care?

You say, “Williams, that would come very close to slavery if one person had the right to force someone to serve him without pay.” You’re right. Suppose instead of Harry being able to force a lab, doctor and pharmacy to provide services without pay, Congress uses its taxing power to take a couple of hundred dollars out of the paycheck of some American to give to Harry so that he could pay the lab, doctor and pharmacist. Would there be any difference in principle, namely forcibly using one person to serve the purposes of another? There would be one important strategic difference, that of concealment. Most Americans, I would hope, would be offended by the notion of directly and visibly forcing one person to serve the purposes of another. Congress’ use of the tax system to invisibly accomplish the same end is more palatable to the average American.

Disguising it doesn’t change the fact that an obligation is being forced on others for the exercise the “right” of health care. The point, of course, is calling something a “right” doesn’t make it a “right” simply because one wishes it to be – not if you understand what a right is and what it means. Instead of a “right” it should be called what it is – a coerced obligation imposed by government. Calling it a “right” is simply an artifice used to try to make the coercive use of force more palitable.



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35 Responses to The “right” to health care

  • But just like all other “Necromongers“, there is the most basic right …  “You keep what you kill.”

  • It is very simple: no one has the right to the labor of others. To think otherwise is to support theft.

  • I’m sorry that you dense righties don’t understand the holy writ of post-modernism. If you did, you wouldn’t post such nonsense about definitions of things.

    We wise leftist post-modernists understand that a word means exactly what we want it to mean, and if a bunch of we wise leftists get together and decide a word means something different from what it used to mean, then it does! Hey, we only do it from the best of intentions. You don’t get a vote, because you are thick righties with bad intentions and most of you are wigged out ex-military basket cases anyway.

    And if you don’t like this, you doth protest too much. Ooooo, I just love that all-purpose rejoinder, which clearly none of you thuggish, Nazi-like climate change deniers around here understand how to deal with. It also has the wonderful side effect of making me sound educated, which of course I am, with degrees that ought to make you silly righties bow down before my obvious greatness.

    But I’m not here to talk down to you. Oh, no. Being here and doing things things like suggesting you need to take my online course has nothing to do with needing to talk down to others to bolster my own self worth. So stop saying that. I’m not obsessed about being here, and I didn’t either lie about staying away! I was just a little excited and temporarily forgot my duty to dispense wise, post-modern, leftist advice to you Nazi-like thugs, so that we call all sit down together and come to a pragmatic, moderate solution to all our problems, and if you dense righties would just stop all your blathering about “freedom” and “honor” and silly concepts like that, it would work.

    Too bad for you guys, but the wise, pragmatic, irreproachable left has already established that healthcare is a right, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you might as well turn your healthcare over to us without such a fuss, because that’s implied. How can you have a right to healthcare if we don’t make you take it?

  • Hey, if health care is such a basic human right, then why hasn’t the left come up with a way to confiscate food?  Food is a much more basic need than dialysis, but I don’t hear anything out of Congress about how the waste and abuse in America’s farms is robbing the country of what it so desperately needs.
    Is it because Congress actually remembers what happened when the government imposed price ceilings on food?  Do they think that medical skill and care is somehow different and immune to the same laws of supply and demand?

  • The unfortunate reality is that Williams and people like him are making a logical, rational argument, something that many Americans neither comprehend nor find comfortable after a lifetime in the horrible public schools and after a lifetime of being sold everything from soft drinks to government programs based on how it will / should make them feel.  Also, our culture is rife with stories and images of people such as Scrooge who are or become virtuous by giving to the less fortunate, and people like Robin Hood who explicitly take from the rich to give to the poor (with the subtext that wealth is inherently wicked and really the property of the poor).  Dare I say that the religion proclaimed by most Americans explicitly requires charity and condemns wealth? (I hasten to add that Christ tells the rich man to give all he has to the poor; he doesn’t tell anybody to take from the rich man to give to the poor.)

    Logically, forcing one men to labor for the benefit of another is slavery.  But when it’s couched in terms of “making the rich* pay their fair share” or “doing the right* thing”… well, who can resist THOSE arguments?  Don’t you WANT children to have medical care?  Don’t you want the elderly to have medical care without having to worry about eating catfood or going bankrupt?  If not, then WHAT SORT OF A MONSTER ARE YOU???

    O’ course, nothing is ever said about the wickedness of using violence or the threat of violence to rob Peter to pay for Paul.


    (*) Both HIGHLY subjective and elastic terms!

    • I hasten to add that Christ tells the rich man to give all he has to the poor

      Jesus didn’t understand investment, huh?

  • Here’s the difference between positive and negative rights.  First, let’s take a negative right like the right to free speech.  When you say “I have the right to free speech,” what are you really saying?  You’re really saying, “leave me alone.  If I want to speak, you can’t interfere.”  And so the great thing about negative rights is that everyone can have them and there’s no problem or inconsistency.  I can’t interfere with your right to free speech and you can’t interfere with mine.
    Now let’s take a so-called positive right, for example, the right to food.  When you say “I have a right to food,” what are you really saying?  What you’re reallying saying is, “hey you, go make me a sandwich.”  The problem is that I can turn around and say, “I also have a right to food.  Why don’t you go make me a sandwich?”  Pretty stupid, no?  Now some of you are saying, “that’s not fair.  That’s not how these rights work in practice.”  You’re absolutely right.  Here’s what really happens.  What really happens is that a third guy shows up, we’ll call him, oh I don’t know, “Mr. State,” and Mr. State says “you guys are both right. Everyone has a right to food. So here’s what we’re gonna do.  You two start making sandwiches and bring them all to me.  I’ll take the sandwiches and redistribute them and I’ll make sure everyone gets enough.”  First, a couple of observations about Mr. State.  1) Mr. State doesn’t himself actually make any sandwiches, which I suppose is ok, since he’s not in the sandwich-making business – he’s in the sandwich-redistribution business. 2) Even though Mr. State doesn’t make any sandwiches, he still has to eat.  So (not unreasonably) he’s going to help himself to what he considers to be a “fair share” of the sandwiches collected. 3) When Mr. State comes to your door to collect sandwiches, he does so at gun point.  (You may or may not find that to be significant.)
    So now the question is, how well does this arrangement work in practice?  Well, it turns out that while everyone* really enjoys eating sandwiches, they’re a lot less enthusiastic about making sandwiches (it turns out that’s not as much fun.)  So not surprisingly, pretty soon after this arrangement is adopted, production starts to fall off, which leads to shortages, which lead to unrest, which in turn leads to a series of very bitter and bloody civil wars (the “Great Sandwich Wars” as they will come to be known by historians).   People are rounded up and put into sandwich-making “camps”.  At one point, in a desperate attempt to deal with the chronic shortages, Mr. State engages in some pretty disturbing “Soylent Green”-type activities.  (“Sandwiches are people!”)  But of course in the end everyone starves to death.
    *Almost everyone likes eating sandwiches.  Mr. State conducts a poll and finds that 98% of Sandwich-topia’s residents agree that “eating sandwiches is awesome.”  The remaining 2% of respondents state that they are “sick of eating sandwiches all the time.” (These individuals are subsequently rounded up and shot.)

  • Basically rights are not a zero sum game.  My freedom of speech does not diminish yours, although I suppose you could argue that my owning property deprives you of the use of it.

  • While I agree that healthcare is not a right, I think there is a strong argument that our society should provide a healthcare safety net to those less fortunate. The question now is where the cut-off line should be drawn, and whether the system providing the healthcare should be private, government or some combination.
    I think the people saying its a right are sort of mixed up with the feeling that its luck of the draw for many medical conditions, and that they don’t want fate to determine so much. What’s funny is that so many on the left think that those who aren’t committed to 100% government funded and owned healthcare are heartless creatures. Like I had to explain to a lefty friend, its not as if we like the rat race, or if we had unlimited resources we wouldn’t do that.
    I think some of these folks don’t know Medicaid exists. Or that dialysis is covered by the government. The sob story of some schmuck who loses his job and then gets sick….isn’t that guy supposed to get on Medicaid? (Then they say, well, Medicaid sucks. I guess they think its underfunded and has nothing to do with it being government run…)
    OK, Rant off.

  • One does not have a right to simple charity, much less a right to a particular service that others are forced to pay for.

    The malignant growth of the state is to blame for this sort of confusion, along with intellectuals who can’t even get as far as “A is A.”

    Positive compulsion is poison to the very possibility of a civil society. It is poison to the very possibility of equality under the law.

    When the state becomes no more than a constant source of compulsion, what you have is a prison state, where the only crime required for incarceration in it is being a citizen. In America this is destructive of the very thing that made great prosperity possible, the liberty of action protected for the individual by natural law, which constrained government from violating said liberty for its own purposes. More government control leads to what? More government contol, of course. And we are so out of balance in that regard already that America’s own government(s) has become the enemy of America.

    We’ve now gone from the New Deal to the New Plantation, a penal colony of penal colonies.

    And the formula used by government of pitting those who vote for a living against those who work for a living is playing out with the revelation that government employees are now being paid nearly twice as much as people in the private sector with benefit packages that are already bankrupting future generations.

    The governing class has established a nomenklatura right in our midsts. They get the choice cottages right outside the barbed wire, but never too far from it.

  • While I agree that healthcare is not a right, I think there is a strong argument that our society should provide a healthcare safety net to those less fortunate.

    There is no happy medium for redistribution of wealth (theft).  You cannot say that it is okay for the government to take a dime from me for others’ healthcare, but if they take a dollar… well that’s just goddamned socialism, you filthy commie hippies!!!
    Tax me to build a road – I’m cool with that.  We all use the road.
    Tax me to build a school – I’m cool with that.  All kids can go to school
    Tax me to pay for my dumb-ass neighbor and his grimy rug-rats’ healthcare – F*CK THAT!  Cancel your cable TV asswipe, and buy some goddamned health insurance.
    You know, now that I think about it… don’t tax me to build a school.  F*CK THAT!  My neighbor’s dumbass kids can’t learn sh!t from shinola anyway.

    The sob story of some schmuck who loses his job and then gets sick….isn’t that guy supposed to get on Medicaid?

    I think the argument is that the government should provide health care for the working poor, i.e. someone who has a job and makes just enough money to disqualify him for medicaid, but doesn’t make enough money to pay $20,000 a year for his family’s health insurance.
    But fuck’em, right?  Shouldn’t have had a family… LOSER!!
    Rant, off.

    • There are three possibilities: 1) it’s a right; 2) it isn’t a right but the government should provide some; 3) it isn’t a right and the government shouldn’t provide it at all.

      The “it’s a right” argument is stupid and insane, but that does leave the possibility that it isn’t a right but some level of socialism is a good idea. I would guess that upwards of 80% of Americans fall in line with this belief.

  • A right is whatever we choose to define it to be.  In nature, there are no rights except that we are free to act within our circumstances.   Yet those circumstances can vary from enslavement to autonomy.   Rights are human constructs, politically produced.   They don’t exist if they are not constructed and protected.   That’s the way the world IS.   Rights are efforts by people to reflect on how the world OUGHT to be.  As such they are not natural, but constructed.   Otherwise, they’d exist naturally, in nature, for everyone.

    • That concept of rights is based on the idea that something, anything, is what you say it is.

      That’s not just stupid, it’s a violation of the fundamental law of identity.

      Natural rights are based in an analytically secure foundation: “the life I am living is my own;” “I am the one thinking these thoughts.” From that foundation come immediate and necessary correlates: self-defense, self-expression, privacy. Civil rights are extensions of natural rights that add process or practice to the natural rights: a right to trial by jury or the right not to be forced to give evidence against yourself or to confront witnesses against you in criminal proceedings.

      There can be no “right” to force other people to give you something you do not have; you have no just claim on the goods of others. Period.

      You don’t get to call your jerkwad appetite for free stuff a “right.”

    • Further, your concept of rights is pure totalitarianism.

      Human beings are human beings by virtue of their capacity for abstract reason, and the radical point of departure, the beginning of the beginning, of that capacity, is based in the reflexive act of self-possession that is the basis of all oughts, which are thereafter joined with reason: “The life I am living is my own” correlates to “the lives of others are their own,” which forms the foundation of the Golden Rule or reciprocity, the basis of all society. It is not constructed, it is immediate, natural, and the realest component of reason itself. Without it there can be no self. It is the foundation of justice.

      • That’s kindergarten philosophy Martin, meaningless and arbitrary.   Grow up.

        • Scott, if you cannot recognize that A is A, then you cannot recognize or say anything, other than nonsense, and that is the whole root of your problem and why you never, ever know what you are talking about.

          Also, I will add that your refusal to acknowledge self-evident natural rights is also your refusal to acknowledge the basis of America, the first country explicitly founded on natural rights and that, in turn, is the first fact of your abject anti-Americanism. You see, that as well is rooted in your failure to grasp even the most fundamental law of thought, the law of identity. Inversely: Things are not what you say they are.

          They are what they are.

        • Also, when you say “meaningless and arbitrary,” that is exactly what you espouse as your philosophy.

          1. If something can mean anything you want it to mean, it is effectively meaningless. It is a blank slate onto which you project an arbitrary identity even as you ignore what it actually is and deny that it has any meaning other than what you assign to it.

          2. And if government (what you call “we”) is the arbiter of the meaning of rights — i.e., the constructor of society — that is by definition totalitarian: it has the power to declare the meaning of fundamental rights as opposed to serving the function of protecting them.

          Given that you believe that such fundamental things are blank slate meaningless and are to be determined arbitrarily by government, then I think you’ve made the case that you are far more suited to the Soviet Union than to the United States.

          But there’s no news there.

        • Scott, it is YOUR philosophy that is meaningless and arbitrary.

    • Rights do exist naturally in nature. Absent a government preventing me from engaging in free speech, religion, or making weapons, I am free to do these things.

      A “right” to healthcare can not really exist, since it is resource dependent. It is NEVER a right to the healthcare you need, it is in fact only a “right” to the healthcare the government provides. Like recently in Cuba, where the “right” to healthcare did not extend to not freezing to death in bed for some 20 odd patients.

      • I will add in that the concept of “need” is rather flexible as well. When welfare become rights, and resources are stretched, the concpet of “need” will change.

      • You are always free to act within your circumstances.   Those circumstances, however, constrain you, or provide opportunities.   Whether circumstances are “just” or not, is a question that motivates politics.

  • A right is whatever we choose to define it to be.

    Hey, that’s great. I choose to define the right to live forever. Anybody with me?

    • Well, if you have a right to health care, and you need a kidney, then don’t you theoretically have a right to one of Scott’s kidneys?

      Is there any reason why the definition of your right to health care cannot be bid up that high in the rights are what we say they are era?

      • Sure, societies could create health care systems like that.   I suspect most would not.  But it’s possible.  Past cultures sacrificed virgins.    We create cultures, we create value systems, we create meaning.   That’s the consequence of having freedom, but also having to share a world with others who also have freedom.

        • We’ll be around to collect your children then Scott, we took a vote and we”ve decided that even though you don’t abuse them and you treat them very decently you don’t have the right to raise them because we don’t like the way you think.  It’s all political so try not to lose any sleep over it.

        • Scott, reason doesn’t create meaning, it finds it.

          Until you understand that A is A, and not just whatever you want it to be, you’re mind will indeed be of a “culture” that throws virgins into volcanoes, or that deems your kidneys belong to the state for medical redistribution.

          Your sort of mystical belief in the authority of government is the very thing that America was founded to get beyond. And it was founded on natural rights and natural law and the idea that it would have limited powers, not any powers it imagined, including the power to gut reality and stuff it with narrative.

    • That isn’t a political right, it’s a claim about metaphysics.   Maybe we all do live forever, maybe this particular incarnation is only one part of our existence.  Who knows?   But political rights deal with the reality of human interaction, not metaphysical aspirations.

      • As often happens, it’s amusing the see the point go right over your head at about Mach 3.

      • The reality of human interactions is you have no fu*king right to the labor of others.

        It is obvious why you want “rights” that are unconstrained from logic. It is the same reason the other Marxists want an economic system unconstrained from the actual laws of economics.

        You will always lose in the end, because you are wrong.

  • Completely agree, people have to look at this from the perspective of the people being forced to provide service. More information on the progress of the health care reform bill(could happen really, really soon…):

  • Both the rabbit and the wolf have the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    Bon appetit.