• Tag Archives rights
  • Why a Free Society Cannot Transform Wishes into Rights


    Any careful observer of American politics must be struck by the ever-expanding roster of things people have asserted rights to. But when such arguments are seriously considered, there is little to them beyond shared desires or wishes for certain things, which supposedly implies that there ought to be rights to them.

    From there, it is but one further step to legislative, executive, or judicial attempts to create such rights, promoted as social improvements guaranteed by government.

    This “ought implies is” argument about rights reverses the claim that “is implies ought,” which David Hume famously shot down. It ignores that in a world where scarcity is inescapable, our desires always outpace what is producible, which means that newly asserted rights may well be impossible delusions. Further, it ignores that making good on any particular newly created right must violate other’s existing rights to themselves and their efforts. And it, too, deserves rejection.

    Few have thought as carefully about this confusion between wishes and rights as Leonard Read. His insights are particularly well developed in his “Doctor, Whoever You Are,” section in his 1969 Let Freedom Reign. In a world where turning one wish into a political right leads to still more attempts to use the same magic on another wish, and every such step further erodes liberty, Read’s views are worth serious consideration on their 50th anniversary.

    “Now in vogue is a fearful combination of wishes and methods, as fanciful as Aladdin’s lamp…the transmutation of wishes into rights! Do you wish for better housing? Then better housing is a right. Do you wish for…higher returns for goods and services, shorter hours of labor, protection from competition? Then these are rights. Do you wish for free medical care? Then free medical care is a right!”

    “And what is the nature of the jinni called upon to transmute wishes into rights?… government. It extorts from all, allocating the legalized loot to those who effectively make their wishes heard.”

    “How do we go about healing this sickness? We must acquire an understanding that wishes, regardless of how numerous, do not constitute a right. I have no more right to your professional attention than you have a claim on me to wash your dishes. We are dealing with an absurdity.”

    “We live and prosper by specialization and exchange…others tend to encourage me to specialize at what is of value to them, and I tend to encourage them to specialize at what is of value to me. This is how people in a free society exert their wishes. But note that these wishes do not carry with them any right on my part to command what others shall produce or any right to force on them the terms of exchange.”

    “When the notion that a wish is a right is put into effect by police force—the only way it can be done—then specialization is no longer guided by consumer wishes nor are the terms of exchange…Other citizens are then forced to perform labor for which they receive absolutely nothing in return. Exchange is by coercion rather than by free choice.”

    “The fact that many of us wish more medical attention than we can afford does not give us a right to your [physician] services or a right to force others to [finance them]…wishes to the contrary notwithstanding!”

    Benjamin Franklin is said to have written, “If man could have half his wishes, he would double his troubles.” He was referring to the problems our wishes would cause ourselves. But we go far beyond causing ourselves problems whenever we try to transform our wishes into rights.

    We cause all our fellow citizens problems because our efforts to create rights for ourselves must pick their pockets—assert our ownership of their resources rather than acknowledging their self-ownership—despite lacking moral or ethical justification. Leonard Read rightly recognized this as no different than looting enforced by a “might makes right” mentality.

    If not for the corrupting lure of something for nothing, people would long ago have rejected the idea that wishes imply rights. But as ever-more goodies have been added to bait the lure, most Americans seem to have decided to stop thinking about the burdens borne as a result of these invented rights.

    Our reasoning has been warped by a too-narrow view of our self-interest, which ignores what we can achieve jointly only by defending voluntary arrangements, which respect one another’s self-ownership. That makes it particularly important to revisit Leonard Read’s wisdom about wishes and rights, for otherwise our coveting will corrupt and punish us further and further.

    Gary M. Galles

    Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • Governments Don’t Give People Rights

    Governments Don’t Give People Rights

    Today’s Quotation of the Day is from pages 22-23 of Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett’s must-read 2016 book, Our Republican Constitution:

    If one views We the People as a collection of individuals, a completely different constitutional picture emerges [from the one seen today by “Progressives”]. Because those in government are merely a small subset of the people who serve as their servants or agents, the “just powers” of these servants must be limited to the purpose for which they are delegated. That purpose is not to reflect the people’s will or desire – which in practice means the will or desires of the majority – but to secure the pre-existing rights of We the People, each and every one of us.

    Each of us has, throughout our lives, many agents. Some are formal (such as lawyers and realtors) while others are informal (such as the friend who agrees to run an errand for you). These people serve us, and we, in turn and in various ways, serve them – for example, we pay them money for their services.

    Importantly, the ‘power’ of each of these agents to act for us is confined to the purpose for which we hire that agent. I delegate to my real-estate agent the power to represent me in selling my home; I do not thereby delegate to her the power to sell my car, to decide how my children are to be educated, or what I may eat for lunch.

    Under the American constitutional system, elected officials are agents of the citizens of the politically defined regions from which these officials are elected. These political agents are no more the originating sources of their own powers and duties to represent the citizens who are their principals than, say, is your realtor the originating source of her power and duties to represent you, the person who hired her to sell your house.

    Rights pre-exist government. Therefore, even if – as most people believe – government is necessary to help to secure individuals’ rights, government does not create that which it itself is created to help to secure. Your real-estate agent might be necessary to sell your home, but this fact does not thereby make her the source of your home’s value or the owner of your home.

    And just as no amount of agreement by other homeowners and realtors to the proposition that your home now belongs by right to your neighborhood makes your home belong by right to your neighborhood, no amount of agreement by fellow citizens and political representatives that your property now belongs by right to the collective makes your property belong by right to the collective.

    When any such transfer of ownership occurs – wherever there is any such stripping away of rights from the individuals who possess them – what is really there is a brute exercise of raw power regardless of how gaudy is the philosophy that is used to portray this occurrence as something more profound.

    Reprinted from Cafe Hayek.

    Donald J. Boudreaux

    Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University, and a former FEE president.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • Rights Don’t Come from Governments

    With every new mass shooting, it seems that everyone on social media is some combination of a gun expert, Islam expert, terror expert, security expert, etc. That’s all well and good, and I am all for people having conversations about these kinds of things. I’m admittedly no expert in any of these areas, and I’m not writing this to try to present any answers or solutions. But this topic, and others like gay marriage, seem to always show that many people profoundly misunderstand what rights are.

    Rights and Law Aren’t Synonymous

    You can see how far off people really are when you run across arguments along these lines: “The First Amendment and free speech aren’t absolute and can be limited, so the Second Amendment can be too”. There are several things grossly wrong with this argument: the first being that it gives way too much significance and power to the Bill of Rights.

    The Constitution and Bill of Rights have no role in “creating” rights. The Constitution itself is useful only insofar as it lays out the guidelines, structure, and organization of the government. It has no place dealing with anything else.

    Rights are extremely simple and bills of rights, constitutions, civics classes, etc. only serve to muddy the waters. They lead people into the confused belief that individuals or representatives or majorities can create rights by writing them down on a magical piece of paper.

    What Rights Do You Have?

    The concept is simple. You have one and only one right, namely property. And you have that right by virtue of being a conscious being. We divide that up into such “sub-freedoms” as freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, the right to bear arms, etc. just for the sake of ease of conversation when talking about specific types of property rights. But make no mistake, every legitimate right can be reduced to a right to property, while every illegitimate right cannot.

    And as a conscious being , you are entitled to this natural right even if you are able to conceptualize it. Put differently, if you can think about having rights then you have them: regardless of whether they are written in a 200 year old document or not.

    The second thing wrong with the above statement is that it’s completely false! Freedom of speech cannot be morally limited. You own yourself, and your rights only end where the rights of others begin; i.e. you can conduct yourself in any way you see fit so long as you do not violate the property rights of other conscious beings. The classic example typically given is that of someone yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. It is said that this speech can be rightfully prohibited, and so there are “obvious” limits to the right to free speech.

    Though you may not rightfully yell “fire” in a crowded theater (most of the time), the reason for this has nothing to do with a limit on free speech. The reason you may not do this is that you would be violating the property rights of both the owner of the theater and the patrons. Most theaters have a code of conduct and yelling “fire” is almost certainly violating that code. Since you would be currently occupying the someone else’s property, you must follow all their conditions for using that property, or you must leave. Otherwise, you are violating their rights.

    You would also be depriving the patrons of getting what they paid for. They purchased a ticket in exchange for viewing the film or performance being shown in the theater and so have a de facto form of temporary property claim on a seat or spot in the theater for the duration of the show. By yelling “fire” and presumably ending or delaying the show or performance, you are depriving them of their property and violating their rights.

    Contractual Restrictions of Rights

    It’s extremely important to remember that right(s) only exist in the space that does not encroach on the rights of others. This means that the above situation does not constitute a “limit” on freedom of speech, but rather is a realm in which free speech never existed and can’t exist. Rights can never serve to aid in the violation of another’s rights because true rights never conflict. This is easier to conceptualize when you consider all rights as only a right to property. You can say what you want because you own your body, but if you choose to occupy someone else’s property, you must abide by their rules or leave.

    Now let’s bring it back to the original statement and the conflict surrounding the right to bear arms. You can bear arms, not because of a few lines of text in an antiquated document, but because you have a right to purchase anything so long all the people involved in the transaction are doing so voluntarily and knowingly. In other words, you can ethically buy anything you want (drugs, guns, sex) as long as the rights of others aren’t violated in the process. What individuals do with what they buy is a wholly different and unrelated argument.

    Freedom of speech is absolute. The right to bear arms (any arms) is absolute. Neither one of these facts has anything to do with the Constitution, and neither can be morally limited.

    Source: Rights Don’t Come from Governments | Foundation for Economic Education