Rights and Goods

15 May
May 15, 2018

Right to life. Right to property. Right to keep and bear arms. Right to free speech. Right to free expression. Right to healthcare. Right to education. Right to religion. Right to associate. Right to clean water. Right to clean air. Right to privacy. Right to feel safe.

Some of these “rights” are not like the others. Can you spot the difference?

Rights, by their nature, are inherent to sentient beings. We have them because we have ownership of ourselves. So, the very first right – the bedrock of everything else is the right of property. I own myself, and by extension, I own what I create. I own the fruits of my labor or the fruits of my trade. The right of free expression protects my ability to create and trade. The right to self defense protects my ability to prevent others from forcibly taking my property – including my own life.

Because rights come from that fundamental property right, they cannot require the abrogation of others’ lives, labor, or capital. There can be no rights to food, education, and healthcare that are based upon the requirement that others are forced to surrender their time, knowledge, and resources – only the rights to produce and trade for education, healthcare, and food. Et cetera.

Usually at this point, I get lambasted by those who do believe in the rights to other people’s property that I want the less fortunate to be uneducated and die from a preventable disease caused by malnutrition. Or something similar. Because “muh rightz.” If they wanted to commit a straw man fallacy.

This is where social goods come in. By goods, I’m not denoting morality, but rather a product/service that is purchased to further social goals. Such as making sure every member of the society has a minimal level of education, healthcare, and food to function and be productive. Or to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Social goods are not rights. They are the cost of being in a society. As people have differing opinions of the value of market goods, they can have differing opinions on the value of social goods. They can also have differing values of how those goods are paid for and distributed.

My personal preference for social goods should be as much done through private means. Businesses and charities are more responsive to the needs and desires of their customers. Are they perfect? No. Businesses and charities are not some force of nature, but collections of people, and people can screw anything up. At the end of the day though, businesses and charities primary means of engagement is through voluntary exchange with their customers.

I’m very cautious about what social goods I think should be provided by government. Unlike businesses and charities, the government doesn’t require voluntary exchange. The government has the ability to enforce it’s (or more to the point, the people in power’s) desires through violence. That difference means that the government is not as responsive to its customers or efficient in the use of its resources.

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