Your Right to Goods and Services

Our society is grappling with the meaning of our fundamental rights in the present day: freedom of speech vs freedom of reach, the right to privacy in a world of social media, etc.

You also hear calls for a new set of rights, beyond the set given to us by Enlightenment thinkers generations ago. These new rights are based on physical goods and services: the “right to housing”, the “right to health care”, etc.

Rights to goods and services are a distinct entity from the rights that we know and cherish, and they threaten to corrupt those core ideals which gave us freedom over the last 200 years.

One man’s right to a physical good, is another man compelled to provide, ship, and deliver that physical good. That’s called work, not a basic human right.

A good test of the principle could be applied by imagining a nearly-deserted island, cut off from the rest of human civilization. Could the right to free speech exist in such a place? Surely yes, your fellow boatmates could easily agree that everyone had the right to speak their minds. You could even have some reasonable limitations on the principle, such as punishment for anyone who falsely raises the alarm about danger.

However, could you maintain the right to housing, or the right to health care in such a place? Would you compel a fraction of the stranded islanders into constructing huts for the others? You could not, at least not without infringing someone else’s more basic rights.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that we should not help those in need of such things as housing and healthcare. But it is not a right, it is a good deed.

Unlike the freedoms that our forefathers strived for, there is no reason to enshrine any artificial rights to goods and services. They fundamentally stand for greed, laziness, compulsion of others, and the inability of an individual to be in control of his or her own destiny.