The “right” to health care

Rand Paul on the “right” to health care:

Elaborating a bit on Paul’s argument, a “right to health care” necessarily comes down to something like this:

Because I am a human being [or an American], I may demand the services of a health care professional, his staff, and his equipment, regardless of my ability to pay for these services.

Imagine now that in a particular geographical area, not a single doctor is willing to treat a patient named John Doe.  Maybe John Doe doesn’t have money, or maybe he is violent, or maybe he ignores the recommendations of doctors.

If there is a right to health care, it is essential that at least one doctor in the area be forced to treat John Doe.  This can be done with a law that defines certain repercussions for disobedience, such as a fine or prison sentence.  Thus, someone (a doctor), facing the threat of violence against his person or property, is forced to do something he would not otherwise do.  If he refuses to treat John Doe, he is subject to punishment.

Such a system is not qualitatively different from the system of slavery.  In the system of slavery, the words of the master are the law for the slave.  Any violation of that law by the slave is punishable, perhaps with additional work or a beating, and thus the slave is forced to do something he would not otherwise do.  If he attempts to resist the master’s law, he is subject to punishment.

The same parallel exists for any service or good.  To claim that you have a “right” to health care, clean water, and good food is equivalent to claiming that you have the right to force others to provide you with said health care, clean water, and good food, against their will.

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Filed under Ideas have consequences

State Secession Movements

Someone pointed me to an interesting graphic at the Wall Street Journal showing many of the secession movements in the United States through the years.

It’s not on the map, but the most important successful splitting of a US state, of course, was West Virginia’s secession from Virginia.  And ironically this was done with the approval of Abraham Lincoln while he was waging a war to prevent secession.

One of those states attempting to secede from Lincoln’s Union was Virginia, which had expressly reserved the right to secede from the general government.

A man of principle might have spoke out against both secession movements, or in support of both.  But Lincoln’s principle was the aggrandizement of the Union, not political liberty, so he simultaneously invaded Virginia and supported West Virginia.

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Filed under Secession

The Constitution’s doomsday provision

On May 6, 2003, the dissent of Judge Alex Kozinski in Silveira v. Lockyer was filed.  Five years before the US Supreme Court confirmed that the 2nd amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, Kozinski argued that the 2nd amendment is a “doomsday provision” essential for the preservation of liberty:

The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Fortunately, the Framers were wise enough to entrench the right of the people to keep and bear arms within our constitutional structure. The purpose and importance of that right was still fresh in their minds, and they spelled it out clearly so it would not be forgotten. Despite the panel’s mighty struggle to erase these words, they remain, and the people themselves can read what they say plainly enough:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

HT to Kevin.  Full text here.

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Filed under Natural rights

Pencils, Ice Cream, and John Locke

Have you ever considered how many people are involved in the manufacture of a simple consumer product, like a pencil or a container of ice cream?  The classic work illuminating the mind-boggling complexity inherent in the production of something “simple” is Leonard Read’s I, Pencil.  In a few pages he takes us to Mexico, Indonesia, California, and Italy, just to find the components.

Then there are the machines required to assemble the pencils, and the buildings in which the machines run, and these too involve materials that were produced by people in far-away places.  In reality, no one knows how to make a pencil from start to finish: each of the thousands or millions of people involved only knows how to perform a specific task.  It is the market that coordinates the effort of all these people in order to bring a useful product–a pencil–to consumers.

More recently, Jeff Tucker made a similar examination of “homemade ice cream,” and found that such a thing is impossible: no one could possibly take the products of nature and turn them into ice cream at home.  Only a complex marketplace, taking full advantage of the division of labor, can produce ice cream.

In November 2010, Thomas Thwaites spoke about his project to build a toaster from scratch.  The attempt was legitimate, but even he made use of many important technologies and products already in existence, and his finished product did not particularly resemble the toasters for sale at Walmart.

These examples point to the concept of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”:

[Man is] led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. . . . By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

But before Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), and certainly before Leonard Read’s I, Pencil (1951), someone else had thought about the amazing complexity of the market and how it produces consumer goods:

It would be a strange catalogue of things, that industry provided and made use of, about every loaf of bread, before it came to our use, if we could trace them; iron, wood, leather, bark, timber, stone, bricks, coals, lime, cloth, dying drugs, pitch, tar, masts, ropes, and all the materials made use of in the ship, that brought any of the commodities made use of by any of the workmen, to any part of the work; all which it would be almost impossible, at least too long, to reckon up.

That’s John Locke, in chapter 5 of his Second Treatise of Government (1690).  And I wouldn’t be surprised if others described this phenomenon before him.

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Filed under Markets, No such thing as a new idea