You do not have a ‘right’ to health care

Rand Paul is correct. You do not have a right to health care. Anybody who thinks he or she has a right to health care does not understand how natural law and natural rights work in a free republic.

Anybody who thinks he or she has a right to health care must also explain why everybody doesn’t have a “right” to a new Mercedes or a new boat.

Anybody who thinks he or she has a right to health care must explain how he or she is going to pursue that “right.” Can you force somebody else to provide health care for you? Can you go to your neighbor’s house and steal money from them to pay for your new found “right?”

The laws of natural law and natural rights are very clear, and have been since the 17th century.

John Locke laid the foundation for the American understanding of rights. You have a right to your life, which means the government should protect you from direct harm by others. You have a right to liberty, meaning the government cannot conscript you and force you to do things you don’t want to do as long as you are not harming others. You have a right to your personal property, which means the government and others cannot take your property from you without consent.

These are natural rights. They are very clearly described in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The main complaint that the colonists had against the British government was that it was trampling on natural rights. The Bill of Rights describes the situation well: people have a right to liberty, which means they have a right to free assembly and free press. The British were not honoring these rights. People have a right to property — the British were searching homes without respecting these rights. People have a right to liberty, which means they can arm and defend themselves — the British were confiscating guns and taking away liberty. The people have a right to property — you cannot quarter troops in somebody’s house without their permission because it is their property.

This is why the Declaration of Independence very clearly says we have “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Earlier the Declaration refers to “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” These are natural, God-given rights that are unalienable, meaning they cannot be taken away by government or anybody else. You have the right to pursue your happiness as long as you do not trample the happiness of others by taking away their rights.

Note the vital prescription for a natural right: it gives you the right to to pursue happiness and do what you want with your life, interacting with willing buyers and sellers, as long as you don’t take away the natural rights of other people. You have the right to set up a business and sell things. People have the right to buy from you as long as you agree on a price. The interaction is voluntary. Your freedom is protected, and the freedom of your clients/customers is protected.

The moment you engage in force is the moment you have violated the natural law and the moment that the government can and should get involved to protect freedom. If you steal from somebody else, you should go to jail. If you break a contract, the government should get involved to enforce the contract or levy penalties.

Other documents forming the foundation of foreign governments have laid out certain “rights,” including the right to education and the right to health care. Children are even given certain rights over their parents in some documents. Bolivia is entertaining the Earth’s right not to be trampled and polluted by people.

These supposed “rights” are not in the U.S. Constitution and were never intended to be. They were invented by well-meaning politicians to placate certain pressure groups. FDR probably did more than any other president to invent new rights when he introduced the “Four Freedoms,” which includes the right to Freedom from Want.

Here is the primary problem with such a “right:” it is laughable because you cannot have freedom from want without taking from others. The government does not create or invent things (except money). It cannot give you food or health care or education without taking from some people and giving to others. This directly contradicts the right to property, which is a natural right. You cannot trample on somebody else’s natural right to claim your own invented right. This is called stealing.

So, how should health care be provided? You have a right to your freedom, which means you have a right to pursue health care. A free market system allows willing providers of health care (doctors, nurses, physical therapists, acupuncurists, herbal medicine providers, etc) to give you health care for a price. In a free market system, you can and should negotiate with them and get the lowest price.

How about emergency care, which is an ever-smaller portion of health care activity? You should buy an insurance policy to cover you in the case of emergency care, just as you do with your car and house.

The fact that we have a problem with health care can be directly traced to the wage and price controls of World War II. This is when companies began offering health insurance as a benefit to employees to get around wage and price controls. President Truman later passed a bill that codified the third-party payer system by giving tax breaks to the companies, rather than individuals. This interferes with the free market by reducing incentives for individuals to lower costs by negotiating directly with their doctors and health insurance companies on prices.

In the 1960s, LBJ doubled-down on the third party payer system through Medicare and Medicaid. These systems involve the government — rather than you — paying for health care. You have no incentive to negotiate with providers on cost, and thus costs continue to skyrocket, contributing directly to our $14.3 trillion national debt.

Government interference is the primary source of all of our health care problems. We do not have anything close to a free market system today. A free market system, which should be the ultimate goal, would lower costs for everybody and make health care much more affordable — while respecting real natural rights like the right to property.

What about the poor who cannot afford to go to the doctor and/or insurance? This is where charity comes in. The United States has a vast network of charitable hospitals. Churches and other organization will step in to help the most needy. But note that in a free market system health care costs would be a fraction of what they are today, therefore making health care affordable to tens of millions of new people. Our goal should be to get the government out of the health care business, not try to add more government controls to our existing system.

I would encourage all people to voluntarily give as much as they can to charitable organizations. This is my personal policy. But I would never force somebody else to pay for me or any other person’s health issues. This is called respecting true natural rights.

NOTES TO COMMENTERS: I have a right to present my opinions on this blog. If you agree with me, huzzah! If you disagree, you have the right to either a)ignore what I write b)leave a short, polite comment disagreeing or c)go write what you want on another blog d)go kick your cat (and that may not go over well with the SPCA). Your snarky, impolite comment will never be read by anybody because all comments are going to be moderated. So don’t even try.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

60 thoughts on “You do not have a ‘right’ to health care

  1. Geoff, a serious question, which is actually tangential to what you are discussing here, but obviously is profoundly relevant to it. You state:

    [A] natural right…gives you the right to to pursue happiness and do what you want with your life, interacting with willing buyers and sellers, as long as you don’t take away the natural rights of other people….The moment you engage in force is the moment you have violated the natural law and the moment that the government can and should get involved to protect freedom….Other documents forming the foundation of foreign governments have laid out certain “rights,” including the right to education and the right to health care….These supposed “rights” are not in the U.S. Constitution and were never intended to be….The government does not create or invent things (except money). It cannot give you food or health care or education without taking from some people and giving to others. This directly contradicts the right to property, which is a natural right. You cannot trample on somebody else’s natural right to claim your own invented right.

    This is a fine summary of the position which holds that the conception of rights inherent to (most of, though not all of) the thinking behind America’s founding documents cannot sustain the notion of a right to health care. However, what exactly obligates me, as an American citizen, to confine my conceptualization of rights to the dominant reading of those documents? If, for whatever reason (perhaps because I am influenced by Marxist arguments, perhaps because my understanding of Christianity rejects the principle of natural law, etc.), I do not find persuasive the philosophical case for “natural rights” as they were conceived of by (most of) the Founding Fathers, do you think there is anything historically or politically illegitimate with my attempting to persuade my fellow citizens to embrace a right to health care?

    I ask because I want to understand if you’re advancing an argument which you take to have real moral weight, or merely historical weight. Do you believe in “natural rights” as you’ve laid them out because you’re convinced that the understanding of natural rights assumed by most (though not all) of the Founders is, in fact, philosophically correct, or because, as an American, you find it to be historically incumbent?

  2. RAF, I think this is an excellent example of how to disagree without being disagreeable, a difficult art which you have mastered.

    Is there anything “illegitimate” to you persuading others? Obviously not — that’s what free speech is for. As I understand it, this is one of your primary purposes in life, to convince others to accept your vision of justice. I would defend to the death your right to speak and say as you like.

    Do I think you are wrong? Yes. This is one reason I posted this.

    As to whether it is philosophically correct or historically incumbent, I would argue both. If you had been around in 1780, you would have been involved in a lot of philosophical discussions on the issue. The Federalist papers and the private writings of the Founders makes it clear that Locke’s vision of natural rights was absolutely central to their thinking. Jefferson cited him as the most influential philosopher on his thought process (thus the Declaration). Paine, Mason, Adams and Madison also all cite Locke very favorably. The conception of property rights was extremely important at the time, and of course was also included in D&C 134:2. “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed…as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” This idea was very clear through the 19th century as well. Again, note the D&C immediately refers to the three natural rights: liberty, property, protection of life.

    To the extent that we have abandoned this philosophy, we have rejected the ideas of our Founders. The result has been an ever-expanding notion of “rights” to education, health care, union bargaining power, etc, etc. The result is clear: $14.3 trillion in debt, and no workable plan to pay it off anytime soon.

  3. regardless of how you phrase it, governments have a responsibility to safeguard the welfare of their citizens, and that includes national defense, education, and healthcare, among others.

  4. Macha, the founding document of our government is the Constitution. It clearly says that the role of the federal government is to safeguard the national defense and to protect liberty and property. It also says right there in the 9th and 10th amendments that all other rights belong to the people and the states. Could you please tell me where in the Constitution it says that that the federal government is responsible for education and health care?

  5. Russell, for those of who like the idea of rights, which I do, then I want rights to mean something, and by that I mean they should be more than a rhetorical device, they should be universal and timeless. The right to life, for example, applies to everyone at all times, and just as much 3000 years ago as today.

    The right to health care, however, is contingent on technology and other time-bound restrictions (does our right to health care extend to: technology that doesn’t exist yet; technology that currently exists only in Japan; do Bolivians have a right to care at the Mayo Clinic?). For these reasons to argue for a claim of a right to health care is to argue that rights are basically meaningless and exist solely for rhetoric. There are people who want to scrap the notion of rights altogether for precisely this reason, but as someone who believes the concept of rights to be invaluable, I deeply resent those pushing to strip meaning from the concept for their own political purposes. They should build their own conceptual framework rather than corrupt this one.

  6. Some key quotations from John Locke:

    Locke envisoned a rule of law: “have a standing Rule to live by, common to every one of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”

    Locke established that private property is absolutely essential for liberty: “every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.” He continues: “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”

  7. If you break a contract, the government should get involved to enforce the contract or levy penalties.

    I think that by this you must mean that ultimately the government would enforce the judgments of the courts in civil cases brought by private parties. In the common law adversarial system that prevails in the United States, private actors are expected to take initiative when they are wronged in their private contracts and bring the matter before a court and convince a jury that they are in the right. The judge instructs and rules as to matters of law (whether on various writs under old-fashioned procedure, or at various levels of the adjudication process through rulings as a matter of law on various motions made throughout the life of a civil case) in the affair. As De Tocqueville observed, this ad-hoc approach to seeking redress for private wrongs was a built-in feature of the system — that private parties manage their affairs and seek redress in this way. It put the burden on them.

    The courts, for their part, were to decide such matters based on common law principles and the participation of a jury of peers. At the time of the Founding, common law principles were still broadly viewed as tying in to natural rights/natural law as well.

    Aside from that quibble, a comment: One difficulty with the way that you persistently argue this issue and others is that your own disagreement with a particular policy does not render it unconstitutional per se or in fact “slavery” as pundits put forward. In our republican system, countermajoritarian courts (by design) have the prerogative of making the determination of whether a particular piece of legislation or policy is unconstitutional or not. Countermajoritarian courts are everyone’s favorite whipping boy when it comes to policy pet peeves but strangely they become a best friend when it is your group’s rights that are being infringed.

    In fact, the federal system is complex enough that action and policies of state governments might be entirely constitutional (but nevertheless a bad or even disastrous idea) whereas the same action by the federal government would be unconstitutional. So you might not have grounds for hyperbolic arguments about “slavery” etc. if you suddenly find yourself saddled there in Colorado with the oppressive right to a baseline level of health care. Your redress will be to vote with your feet and move to a different state.

  8. Brilliantly put Geoff. If we had a truly “free” market place, health care costs would go down. Back in my starving student days, my doctor had a seperate set of prices for people w.o insurance. He made less money that way, but it allowed people to get the care they needed.

    I’ve often seen the problem put this way, “You would not make an auto insurance claim to fill up your gas tank. Eventually car insurance would be too expensive.” But that’s what we do with health care, we claim things that we should be paying cash for.

  9. It seems to me that the inherent problem in rights talk, when it comes to health care, is that health care is a different beast from a Mercedes or a hamburger. Those are commodities, which can be bought and sold, whereas health care isn’t a commodity. There are aspects of it that are commoditized (drugs, MRI machines, etc.) but health isn’t really a commodity. So arguing that one has a right to health care or some such is like arguing that one has a right to food or housing. The rights aren’t really about the means for their attainment.

    Obviously, where there are rights, there are obligations. Our right to life obligates the government (or someone) to provide protection (assuming that you don’t want vigilantes running around). Our rights to liberty or property equally obligate government (or, failing that, one another) to protect them. So, I think that the better question to ask is how far should be extend our notion of governmental (or mutual) obligation to protect rights?

    I’m also not clear on how you are distinguishing between natural and invented rights. Could you explain that for me? At present, it appears that natural rights refers to a. the rights you happen to agree with or b. rights that God has declared are given to all. If you mean the second, could you point me to the relevant scripture that makes the point that these (and only these) are the rights God has granted to man?

  10. regardless of how you phrase it, governments have a responsibility to safeguard the welfare of their citizens

    I agree. However, a moral obligation to love your neighbor does not give your neighbor a right to be loved by you, let alone in the time, place, and manner he or she demands.

    Welfare is gift from one group to another. If the recipients are in difficult circumstances, they can certainly petition the electorate to increase the size and the level of the gift, but no one has a right to the generosity of others.

    A right to the property of others is a license to steal. A right to the labor of others is a license to enslave. Neither are natural rights by any means.

    The only natural right to welfare must be derived from an argument about deferred compensation or debt. For example, one could make the case that parents generally have a natural right to some degree of support from their own children, because the latter are indebted to them and generally speaking ever will be.

    With regard to the government, the situation is the reverse. Every one of us is indebted to the government when protected in our life, liberty, and property, not the reverse. It is the government that has a natural right to some level of support to maintain that protection, more so than other way around.

  11. A free market system would also let people bargain and exchange with each other to distribute risk. That’s what health insurance is.

  12. The right to health care, however, is contingent on technology and other time-bound restrictions (does our right to health care extend to: technology that doesn’t exist yet; technology that currently exists only in Japan; do Bolivians have a right to care at the Mayo Clinic?). For these reasons to argue for a claim of a right to health care is to argue that rights are basically meaningless and exist solely for rhetoric.

    Matt, what does this do to what our own Constitution calls, “the right of the People to keep and bear arms”? Are you calling the Second Amendment “basically meaningless and exist[ing] solely for rhetoric”?

  13. “Here is the primary problem with such a “right:” it is laughable because you cannot have freedom from want without taking from others. The government does not create or invent things (except money). It cannot give you food or health care or education without taking from some people and giving to others. This directly contradicts the right to property, which is a natural right. You cannot trample on somebody else’s natural right to claim your own invented right. This is called stealing.”

    Couldn’t you say this about anything the government taxes us for though Geoff? Any taxes violate my right to property. Personally I feel the biggest violation of my natural rights is the amount of taxes I have to pay for the Department of Defense.

  14. Russell,

    The Constitution provides a way to establish other “rights”. This is via the Amendment process. It has been used in the past to give rights to blacks, women, 18 year olds, and drinkers. Of course, health care would be different in that it requires taking property from others to provide it for all. Still, if it was encoded into the Constitution via Amendment, I think most would not still be fighting nor discussing this issue.

    Why is this different than just having Congress making a law to provide such a “right”? Because limited government requires there are shackles placed upon federal government to only provide those things specifically approved through the Constitution of the federal government. “General Welfare” clause is for “general” and not specific issues. Since our federal health care does not provide for all in an equal manner, it fails almost any reading of “general welfare.”

    To require amendment process means that such implementation is done carefully, and not slapped quickly together (as was the Obamacare). And it establishes a federal right.

    That said, I still would be against federal medical care for anyone. Such should rise no higher than the state, which is the nation’s laboratory. One size does not fit all for most issues, EXCEPT where it comes to unalienable rights.

    The danger of allowing the federal government to decide which rights we have, is they then get into their heads they can take away rights. And we see this happening with the Patriot Act, and many other laws and regulations. Do we really want the feds to have the power to give and take rights? Or do we want the Constitution to bind them, so they cannot impose such from above without having to first enact a Constitutional Amendment?

  15. Friends, I will be traveling, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Answers later. Mostly civil comments so far, so that is good.

  16. Rameumptom,
    How is the US Government not deciding what rights we have in the US Constitution? There is a reason they specifically lay them out, instead of saying “Ya’ll have rights. You know what they are.”

  17. Why can’t God given rights evolve as we evolve as a society? Just because the means of guaranteeing health care to all citizens didn’t exist in 1787 doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be considered a right today now that we have the means. If we believe that the light of Christ and its inspiration are behind advances that benefit men and women, why shouldn’t we adjust our idea of rights as we go along? What happens when God inspires a person to find a new, safe, portable, renewable, clean source of energy that could be given to every household in the country and forever supply their energy needs, could we not also conclude that God intended it to be a right of all his children to possess it?

    I’m not crazy about the rights arguments because I think they’re too amorphous, but if we’re talking about inherent, God given rights I can’t imagine them as static throughout all history.

  18. John C. the preamble states, “THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: ”

    That seems to me to say, “since we don’t trust government, we’re going to lay out some things they can’t do.” and they are not saying, “here are a list of rights we let you have.”

  19. chris,
    So, what they are saying is “these are rights that the federal gov’t can’t infringe”? Is that materially different from saying “these are your rights”?

  20. Now, some answers. John F, I think it is clear I am talking about the federal perception of rights. My constant reference to our founding documents should make that pretty obvious. I’d be willing to bet you a Spanish Book of Mormon that none of the state constitutions has references to health care as a right. But I would agree with your larger point, which is that states could and should have greater freedom to adopt their own policies. Massachusetts adopting Romneycare is no skin off my nose, and Vermont adopting single payer affects me not at all. This why we have a 10th amendment, and in general I think that’s a good thing. I fantasize about a possible future when there is a more conservative Supreme Court and whether some future citizen of Massachusetts sues to overturn Romneycare because of the individual mandate and its violation of natural rights to property. The federal Constitution does trump the states on issues of natural rights. I’m not saying that will ever happen, but it’s interesting to think about.

    John C, health care is a service, more comparable to a service provided by lawyers and accountants. Doctors are paid for their specialized knowledge, just like lawyers and accountants. We don’t think there is a “right” to an accountant in the Constitution, nor should we. I’m pretty clear in this post where the rights come from, you may need to give it another read.

    Mark D, Joyce, Rame and Chris, good comments as always.

    Jacob S, I think you need to read some of the 17th and 18th century literature on natural rights. They have pondered all of the issues you mention. The issue they come up with is: how do you give people rights that don’t affect and/or diminish other peoples’ rights? This is really the key. So, when that is your criteria, you come down to three rights: liberty, property and your life. Let’s explore the possible danger of expanding rights to other areas. Let’s say that there is another huge 9/11 and a future president says, like Bush did, that we have “an inherent right to security.” Well, there is some truth to this. It is legitimate for the government to protect us from harm. Defense and police departments are legitimate functions of government. But what about this “right to security?” Well, in 1941, FDR came up with the Four Freedoms, and one of them was “Freedom from Fear.” It was this “Freedom from Fear” that was used to justify throwing tens of thousands of Japanese in concentration camps. This would have never happened without people throwing away the idea of natural rights. Japanese-Americans were U.S. citizens with natural rights to liberty and property. They had a right to due process and a right to be innocent until proven guilty. But all of their rights were thrown out to protect this newfound “right” that FDR invented called “Freedom from Fear.”

    We know that Bush and people from both parties are doing the same thing today and are very close to developing a “right to security.” The Patriot Act is a direct violation of the 4th amendment. Guantanamo is a direct violation of due process rights. We are violating the natural right to life of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq and now Libya with our insane and unconstitutional wars.

    So, some future president decides to throw all Muslims in concentration camps because of the “right to security.” Don’t think it couldn’t happen. What if a Muslim extremist set off a nuclear bomb in New York, killing a million people. You don’t think people would completely freak out?

    So, inventing new rights is an extremely dangerous thing. If we had relied on the rights discussed in the Constitution, we would have no Iraq war, we would have been out of Afghanistan in 2002 and we would have no Patriot Act. The same thing applies to “rights” invented by well-meaning people on the left for social justice. You simply cannot invent new rights that trample the rights of others. You can ask them to voluntarily give, which is a good thing. But you cannot force them by inventing new rights.

  21. Jjohnsen, yes, all taxes violate others’ rights. But until 1913 we did not have an official income tax, which violates property rights most of all. And keep in mind the income tax was intended to only affect the very, very rich until WWI came along and it was necessary to raise government revenue.

    I totally agree with you on the DoD spending, and it burns me up every time I think about how much money we are wasting in the Middle East, Germany, Japan, etc.

    I think we need to change our mindsets. We need to remember natural rights and remember the rights to property and liberty. Does this mean the income tax will be repealed anytime during my lifetime? Almost certainly not. But I hold out the hope that we can chip away at it and decrease the size of government. If government were half the size it is today you would hear a lot fewer complaints.

  22. Cynthia, the 2nd Amendment is structured as a negative right: government can’t take your weapons. If we were to turn that into a positive right, asserting that we have a Right TO Arms meaning the government has to provide them to us, like people do with the so-called Right to Health Care, then we’d be have the same silly questions of just what kinds of weapons the government has to give each of us since we have a right to arms.

  23. Geoff,

    “Jjohnsen, yes, all taxes violate others’ rights”

    taxes does not equal “income taxes.”

    Even tariffs are in fact ultimately taxes of some sort. Someone domestic is paying indirectly for them. So if ‘taxes’ violate rights, wouldn’t economics 101 also tell us tarrifs do as well?

    If that is the case, then wouldn’t it be true that the very act of funding a government for our protection is simultaneously a violation of other’s rights?

  24. A free market system, which should be the ultimate goal, would lower costs for everybody and make health care much more affordable

    I don’t think we have a good guarantee that things would work better in a completely free-market (plus charity) system. Sure you can speculate and reason about it. But has it been tried anywhere in modern times, in a first-world country, with current medical technology? I would hate for our whole country to be the guinea pig of a radical, untested social engineering project.

    There is a method that has been tried and proven effective in health outcomes, and in costing around half of what we currently pay. It has been in place for decades in many countries, and is currently in place in virtually every first-world country except our own. See these graphs showing how government-run healthcare is demonstrably better than the current US system.

  25. “The laws of natural law and natural rights are very clear, and have been since the 17th century.

    John Locke laid the foundation for the American understanding of rights. You have a right to your life, which means the government should protect you from direct harm by others. You have a right to liberty, meaning the government cannot conscript you and force you to do things you don’t want to do as long as you are not harming others. You have a right to your personal property, which means the government and others cannot take your property from you without consent.

    These are natural rights. They are very clearly described in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution…

    This is why the Declaration of Independence very clearly says we have “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Earlier the Declaration refers to “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” These are natural, God-given rights that are unalienable, meaning they cannot be taken away by government or anybody else. You have the right to pursue your happiness as long as you do not trample the happiness of others by taking away their rights.”

    I think this is where you address it. How do you use this to distinguish between natural and invented rights? You say what you think they are, that you think they are clear, and where you believe they come from, but these statements don’t explain how you distinguish them from invented rights (also, where my guesses right?). More on that, please.

    Also, the government has seen fit to say that the services of a lawyer are constitutionally guaranteed, so I’m not sure that the services of some health care professional are beyond constitutional guarantee.

  26. I should also note that the Constitution never mentions God (except in stating the year), so it is unclear that the Founders were operating from a natural law perspective. Rather, the whole thing argues that the people themselves give these rights and restrictions to the government. While natural law theory may apply to the Declaration, there is a reason Jefferson wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention.

  27. Bruce, in another post I discussed the whole issue of taxation as a violation of natural rights. The conclusion that the Founders came to was that taxes WERE a violation of natural rights but that a small tax of some kind was unavoidable. For the first 130 years of the republic the primary federal tax was a tariff. The argument was that this did not tax Americans but instead foreigners importing goods into the U.S. Of course, a tariff is passed indirectly to consumers, but you see the extraordinary measures taken to protect people from taxes. There was universal agreement that most taxation should take place as much as possible on the state level so that local control would prevent out-of-control government. It should be obvious how far we have strayed from those principles.

    As I say, if government were half its current size and taxes were lower, 80 percent of the people complaining about taxes would shut up. (Of course there would be cranks who kept on complaining until taxes were zero). Just to use one example, we had a surplus in 2000. Let’s say Bush kept on balancing the budget and handed a balanced budget over to Obama, and Obama also balanced the budget. How many people would be concerned about the size of government then? A much, much lower number than today.

    John C, the whole idea of government paying for a lawyer comes from common law, which is based on natural law rights going back to the magna carta. This is why it is mentioned in the Constitution. If the Constitution also mentioned a “right to health care,” we would not be having this discussion. But it does not.

    Actually Cynthia L, we have some very good ideas of how the free market would work in health care. One example is Lasik surgery, which is a truly free-market system. Costs go down nearly every year. Technology is constantly improving. In any city, there are 20 people offering you services. They advertise and compete against each other. I had Lasik surgery. The difference between that and your average doctor visit is incredible. First of all, there is no army of receptionists fighting with insurance companies. The lower cost for the doctors should be obvious. Second, there was no wait. The offices were beautiful. The attention was spectacular. I loved going to that doctor, and it was very, very inexpensive ($1500 per eye for a life without glasses — the payoff over time is obvious).

    Another example is elective knee and/or hip surgery. If you go to Latin America, there are literally hundreds of doctors who will offer to provide you this surgery (you must pay out of pocket). In the US, it might cost $20k and may not be covered. In Panama, for example, it will cost $2k plus travel expenses. These are U.S.-trained doctors who choose to work from other countries because of malpractice laws and lower expenses for office staff. There are literally thousands of people who travel to Latin America every year to get such surgery. It is the U.S. system with its high costs that forces doctors to go off-shore.

    We don’t have a free-market system in medical care. If we did, it would be less expensive and work much, much better. Many millions of people would be able to afford it. The evidence is clear.

  28. Kamschron, you cannot have a right to health care without violating others’ natural rights. The fact that the world does not see this does not make it any less wrong. There was a time when most of the world had no problem with slavery, which violates natural rights in the most fundamental way possible. I’ll stick with natural rights, thank you.

  29. As mentioned before, the Constitution was created to limit the federal government. It specifically states what the feds can and cannot do.

    Health care is not given in the Constitution as a right, therefore, it is not a right, and Congress should get out of the business. However, if the people deem it important enough to make it a right, then there is the Amendment process.

    Otherwise, what is not specifically given to the Federal government to do (defense, treaties, etc), and is not denied the States, will be handled by the States. Guess what? Healthcare is not specifically given to the fed, nor is it denied the states to handle, so it is a state issue. Only an Amendment can/should change this situation.

  30. From “Welfare Rights in State Constitutions” by Elizabeth Pascal:

    On the state level, however, constitutions entrust the legislature with the fundamental decision of whether or not to provide basic welfare support. According to one study, twenty-three state constitutions implicitly or explicitly establish protections for the poor. These constitutional provisions range from categorical statements of an affirmative obligation on the state to care for the needy, to permissive grants of power to the state to provide such care, to the creation of public agencies to address the needs of the poor without any specific constitutional obligations. Only four state constitutions—Alabama, Kansas, New York, and Oklahoma—command the state or their subunits to provide for the poor. Alabama’s constitution contains the strongest affirmative language, establishing that “It shall be the duty of the legislature to require the several counties of this state to make adequate provision for the maintenance of the poor.” The other three constitutions limit the affirmative language by granting the legislature the power to determine the nature of the welfare provision. For example, the New York constitution states that, “The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.”

  31. John M, this qualifies as winning the bet. Where do you want your Spanish language BoM sent to?

    I have fewer problems with such claims at the state level (although I would vote against govt intrusion there too). This exactly follows the Founders’ vision, ie, the states would work things out for people who want to live there. Vermont is trying to establish single-payer. That would be enough for me to never live there, but there are 49 other states where I could live, and I think that was the Founders’ intent. I predict that 10 years from now we will be reading more and more about how Romneycare in MA and single payer in VT have ruined the quality of care there, how people can’t find doctors, and how emergency room waits have gone from 1 hour to 10. Luckily you still can’t force doctors to live someplace to provide care, although that may be the next thing the authoritarian left tries to control.

  32. Geoff, there is an alternative to forcing American doctors from serving in a specific place: they can hire doctors from other countries. They would give them the proviso that if they serve for ten years in the allotted location, then they get citizenship.

    Of course, it still is the federal government at its worst.

    Again, if Americans want a “right” to health care, the Constitution needs to be amended to state it.

  33. Someone up above pointed out that a constitutional guarantee of legal services is similar to a constitutional guarantee of healthcare services. However, it is important to keep in mind that the guarantee of legal services only applies when the government is accusing you of a crime. If you are tried by the government, you are guaranteed the right to legal representation. However, I don’t believe there are any cases where you are guaranteed the right to representation if you need to sue or defend yourself from a lawsuit or other civil action. You are also not guaranteed the right to an attorney to assist in making legal decisions, such as whether to sign a contract.

    So perhaps you could justify some ‘right to healthcare’ in the event you become ill or injured while performing a constitutionally required responsibility, such as serving on an active jury, or assisting in the national defense. Beyond that, while a do see a moral obligation for us to care for each other, I don’t see much justification for a right to services such as healthcare.

  34. Geoff, I don’t think you can compare Lasik (straightforward to understand the cost/benefit, non-emergency, outpatient, only on adults so no moral dilemmas about whether kids should get it since they are below the age of economic accountability in society, doesn’t deal with life-threatening issues so no moral dilemma about letting someone die for lack of funds or not, etc, etc, etc million other HUGE qualitative differences…) with the whole spectrum of health care. It’s just not remotely analogous in any of the dimensions that make comprehensive health care such a sticky issue.

  35. Geoff, in your opinion, can the constitution legitimately recognize any invented “rights” that would violate the natural rights articulated by natural law theorists? If health care were added to the constitution as a right through the amendment process, would it be a legitimate right? Or would such a supposed “right” be inherently illegitimate because it would violate the natural law property rights of others by requiring more spending of taxpayer money? What about, say, the amendment allowing women the right to vote (which I’m sure required additional taxpayer spending on more ballots and ballot-counters)? Also, was the 16th amendment, which permits a federal income tax, illegitimate because it specifically allows the federal government to trample on individual property rights?

    I’m just trying to figure out whether, when the constitution and natural law theory deviate from one another, which trumps the other in your mind?

  36. Anna, I think that’s a good question. I guess I would argue this way:

    –On a federal basis, the Constitution is based on natural rights. There are a few amendments (16th, for example) that violate natural rights. I would be in favor of the 16th amendment being repealed because it violates natural rights. So, if there were a process to repeal the 16th amendment, I would be a vocal advocate for that, and you could probably only repeal the 16th amendment via another amendment. We are not likely to see this process in our lifetimes.

    –It is worth pointing out that the 14th amendment, as we have discussed before, restores natural rights that were never granted. The same thing for the women’s right to vote. (15th? — can’t remember off the top of my head). There is nothing wrong with the Constitution restoring natural rights that have been ignored or violated.

    –The Constitution clearly pushes issues like health care to the states. I don’t agree with single-payer or Romneycare, but I don’t live in VT or MA so it doesn’t affect me, so I don’t care that much. These systems will fail spectacularly, so I don’t fear them being adopted in Colorado, where I live.

    –Should states’ rights overcome a violation of natural rights (which I believe Romneycare is)? Probably. Let’s see what happens.

    So, in my mind the process is:

    –Natural rights are clear.
    –The founding documents recognize natural rights and were written to protect natural rights.
    –If you want to invent a new right through the legislative (or the executive) processes, I would hope judges honoring the Constitution would overturn these new rights.
    –If you pass a constitutional amendment that violates natural rights (like the 16th), it is the law of the land. People who favor natural rights should fight it and mount efforts to repeal it.
    –States inventing new rights are less alarming than new rights being invented on a national level. There will likely be a lot of back and forth over this issue in the future. In general, I would favor efforts to overturn state laws that violate natural rights, even on the state level.

    I think that’s pretty clear.

  37. Thanks, Geoff. I obviously agree that the 19th amendment (granting women the right to vote) restored a natural right that had been ignored. But I’m still not sure that “natural rights are clear.” Clear to whom? Would the founders have agreed a woman’s right to vote was a natural right? Would John Locke have agreed that was a natural right? If our idea of what is a natural right can change over time, how do we know if something like equal treatment under the law for racial minorities, equal treatment under the law for women (still not in the constitution under your interpretation of the 14th amendment as I understand it), equal treatment under the law of gays and lesbians, or health care is (1) a natural right that has been ignored and needs to be restored, or (2) invented right that needs to be avoided?

  38. There are three natural rights. These are rights given you by God. They are mentioned by Locke and mentioned in D&C 134:2. These rights are: life, property, liberty. Government should exist to protect these natural rights. Government should protect these natural rights as long as it does not interfere with somebody else’s natural right. Women should have the right to their life, their property and their liberty. To the extent that men imposed rules that did not do that (not allowing them to vote or own property, etc), it’s a good thing that their rights were restored.

    The rights in the Constitution flow from these three rights. As I mentioned above, you have the right to free speech because you have the right to liberty, and it doesn’t physically hurt anybody else for you to speak out. You have the right to your property, which means people can’t burst into your home without a warrant. You have the right to your life, which means people can’t kill you.

    The key to knowing whether something is a natural right or an invented right is: does it hurt somebody else’s natural rights and cause them harm? This is the reason that so many in the north spent so much time talking about compensation for slave owners before the Civil War. They were stuck with the issue of: slave owners spent a lot of money on slaves, if you set them free without compensation, you are harming other property rights. This discussions seems ridiculous to us now, but it showed the extent to which people in the early 19th century accepted the idea of natural rights.

    The world is not perfect. We cannot always find perfect solutions (just as we could not in 1860 in the U.S.). But if we use the idea of natural rights as our guide we will succeed almost all of the time. If you accept natural rights as your guide, you realize you should be able to do what you want with your life as long as you don’t harm anybody else. This is the golden rule and perfectly compatible with Christianity and almost all other religions. If you add the Christian admonition that you should also voluntarily give generously to the poor, you have the perfect society, where people pursue their own happiness and also help those who are less fortunate, thereby becoming more Christ-like.

  39. Geoff,
    Where I think we have a disconnect is that: 1. I don’t see all three of those rights as being equal (I think both right to life and right to liberty as being more important than right to property) and 2. I see government as being authorized to intervene in all three of these rights, dependent on circumstances. So, for instance, the government has a right to kill or imprison you if you are a mass murderer intent on more killing (which violates your right to life and liberty). Now, you argue that the government should intervene in those cases, because the mass murderer’s use of his rights violates someone else’s natural rights. But that distinction still creates a hierarchy of rights (the rights of the potential victim supersede the rights of the potential murderer; the governmental right to protect life supersedes your right to liberty). There is always give and take in this sort of negotiation for rights.

    Another tact I would take would be to question the notion of “property rights” as being a natural right. There are plenty of communities with wildly different notions of property rights that seem to function just fine (for instance, go watch the beginning of The Gods Must be Crazy (when it’s pretending to be a PBS special)). To argue that the American specific notion of property rights (which isn’t derived from the Declaration of Independence, of course) is some sort of spritual or natual universal seems myopic to me. There are lots of ways of doing.

    But even setting that aside (and thanks for answering my questions, by the way), I think that one could reasonably argue that the notion of a “right to life” does compel government intervention in health care. Certainly, if the right to counsel is compelled by some notion of a “right to liberty,” then a right to access to a health care specialist in times on personal physical danger from disease seems analogous. As to why the Founding Fathers didn’t consider it, I suspect that they had a deep suspicion of the medical profession in the day (although, this didn’t stop them from arguing for a right to lawyers). It was leeches and bleeding and all that. However, if we believe that medical science has advanced to the point where it is actually helpful (and, arguably, necessary) then I think that government sponsorship of health care is not beyond the pale if we argue that an inherent right to life exists (especially if you order the rights in the manner that I do).

    Of course, there is a question as to whether a notion of natural rights should enter into the equation at all. The Constitution appears to be a deliberately secular document, with the powers of the government and the institution of rights always coming from the people directly. It isn’t a document that is reliant on a notion of natural law or natural rights. The Declaration of Independence did cite God as a source of rights, but there are reasons that Jefferson wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention.

  40. John C, it is very convenient for modern-day social engineers — who want to take away property from some and give it to others — to pretend that there is no natural right to property. But this is not how Locke or the best minds of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries saw it. You cannot have a 4th amendment without property rights. The idea that your home is your castle is central to English common law. It is built on property rights. If you do not have a right to your property then your house is public property and anybody in the world can crash into your house at any time and any place and steal your stuff, watch your TV, etc.

    Property rights are central to any understanding of natural rights and freedom.

  41. The idea that your home is your castle is central to English common law.

    That’s not really true, at least not in my opinion. The fact that a premise of your argument is cliche and untrue, however, does not mean that property rights were not important in the American founding and are not just as important today in any free society.

    Matt and Geoff:

    Locke was a great thinker and our political institutions indeed owe a great deal to the philosophies of the English enlightenment that animated his thought, and which his efforts helped to shape. Most notable among those were his insistence on toleration as a pillar of free society and the freedom of conscience and his belief that “the only thing that matters in religion are acts”.

    But despite your great enthusiasm for natural rights and in particular the natural right to property, or rather perhaps precisely because of this enthusiasm of yours, I think you should begin de-emphasizing Locke a little. An over-emphasis on Locke could potentially call into question whether the natural right to property exists independently mystically in the universe, outside of us as people or our societies, and limit it in doing so. “Private property is a natural right because John Locke said so” carries weight because we respect John Locke but if we think about it a little, we have to ask if that is a good reason to believe that something actually does exist. Someone else of equal gravitas could say “X is a natural right” and would it be so just because that person said it?

    Although Blackstone’s legal treatise and current philosophical texts of the time prominently focused on Locke’s natural rights formulations, Thomas Jefferson famously replaced Locke’s natural rights triumvirate of life, liberty and property with life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence, our principle natural rights based political document. What are we to make of that with regard to natural rights that are believed to exist independent of people or their thoughts about natural rights? “Pursuit of Happiness” both replaces “Property” wholesale and also arguably includes it in a broader context — an allusion to perhaps a broader slate of natural rights, of which Property is one? Surely he could not have meant to do away with Locke’s natural right to Property, could he? If not, then Property is encompassed by the term Pursuit of Happiness.

    A thinker like Jefferson would not have lightly replaced Locke’s Property with Pursuit of Happiness without meaning something precisely by the replacement. Did he mean that natural rights encompass more than just Locke’s triumvirate? What is included in Pursuit of Happiness? — arguably, at least Property must be there. Perhaps natural rights, including Property, that go toward ultimate Happiness. Is Privacy one of them? Is Jefferson saying that Privacy is a natural right in the same bundle as Property? If so, is Privacy a natural right that exists independently outside of us just because Thomas Jefferson said so? Did Jefferson mean his category of Pursuit of Happiness to be open ended such that newly discovered independently existing natural rights would be encompassed by it as thinkers reasoned the necessity of their existence? Is health care one of these that joins the bundle when a society has the means to provide it?

    What do you think Jefferson meant? If you disagree with him, are you unAmerican?

  42. John M., 33, For example, the New York constitution states that, “The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.”

    De Tocqueville picked up on this and marvelled at it as a defining characteristic of the American people — that they provided in their constitutional documents for support of the needy as a public concern. I don’t have my copy to hand but if memory serves, he includes a footnote praising the Americans’ provision of support by the various governments to the needy through hospitals and other means and contrasts that with the European societies and governments of his day, which he observed provided nothing of the sort.

    Given this contemporary observation of the situation on the ground at the time, how odd/ironic is it that many seem to seek authority and support for the proposition that government shouldn’t be involved in any of this stuff by specific reference to “the olden days”. The fact is that in “the olden days” people were community minded and thought that government should be helping in these efforts where possible. A different substantive understanding of the meaning of the existence of natural rights prevailed. Taxes, for example, weren’t viewed as an infringement of a natural right to property if they were enacted by a representative legislature composed of elected representatives who obtained their office through the democratic process. The Federalist Papers would appear to bear this out in how taxes are treated there.

    It bears mentioning that all actions of a representative government in a Republic are, in effect, taxation. And they will always be against the will of a particular electoral minority — the segment of people who voted for the candidate who argued for a different set of policy priorities and promises and lost. This is unfortunate for them and they can and should legitimately argue in the public sphere for their preferred policies and candidates to win the next time around. But it is a feature of the system, not an infringement of natural rights.

  43. Geoff, you argue persuasively that John Locke and the founding fathers believed in a natural right to property and that that belief strongly influenced the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. It does not follow that their concept of what is and is not a natural right is correct. Nor does it follow that any understanding of natural rights that is more expansive, more restrictive, or weighs those rights differently is incorrect.

    One can understand the positions of John Locke and the founding fathers without agreeing with all of those positions.

  44. John F, de Tocqueville spent most of his time discussing the voluntary actions of people who tried their best to follow Christ’s admonition to help the poor. He was much less interested in government actions.

    Personally, I find the “right to privacy” extremely problematic, and not just because of Roe v. Wade’s ridiculous use of it to legalize by fiat what most of the states were already doing. “Pursuit of Happiness” means exactly what it seems to mean, which is the right to pursue your own activities as long as you don’t harm others. Inherent in that is a right to property. In case there is any doubt, I refer you to the 14th amendment, which meant to restore natural rights to people who had them denied. What were these natural rights?

    14th amendment, section 1: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    It couldn’t be more clear. The natural laws are, as Locke said, the rights to life, liberty and property. The D&C referred to these rights when discussing just and wise government. The 14th amendment reaffirms that for people who have been oppressed, the key thing to restore to them is there “life, liberty and property.” (And, as I have said before, it was judicial activism by unjust courts — just as we have today — that allowed government to deny these natural rights to a large section of the inhabitants of our country).

    As I say, it is an authoritarian, repressive government — and a large number of extremely misguided people — who agree to take away natural rights from people for one cause or another. The people in the South in the 1870s were equally misguided in taking these rights away from our fellow citizens. The people today who deny these natural rights are just as wrong as the white racists of the South 150 years ago.

  45. @#30

    Geoff says: “The conclusion that the Founders came to was that taxes WERE a violation of natural rights but that a small tax of some kind was unavoidable.”

    (I’d be interested in a link to the original post btw.)

    You go on to explain that if the budget were balanced fewer people would complain about government being too large. Amen to that!

    So I am not disagreeing with you.

    What I am doing is calling into question — or perhaps highlighting — the use of the word ‘right’ and particularly ‘natural rights.’

    According to the logic you are presenting, there is something called a ‘natural right’ which is to life, liberty, and property. It can and morally must be violated by taxes. So ‘rights’ are not hard fast rules.

    If this is what you mean, then I have no argument. I normally think of ‘rights’ in a stronger manner than this and suspect most people do. For example, you can’t have your liberty taken away unless you commit a crime. Or you can’t have your property taken away unless there is a pulic need, due process, and proper compensation. These are much stronger rules or removal or rights than merely ‘well, we need to charge taxes.’

    In so far as taxes ARE a violation of natural rights, but a moral one (from the point of view you are suggesting), then the question refocuses to the following:

    1. It is not robbery to have taxes. (key point!) Unless we want to redefine ‘robbery’ to include moral taking away of property as well, which probably isn’t what people normally mean by it.
    2. We get to argue over ‘how much’ to tax.
    3. It makes sense to minimize it to the the level that works best.
    4. But we get to argue over what what ‘works best’ means.

    Given those four points, it may be that there is someone that thinks we should tax more than today (yeah right!) yet still believe it’s the minimum that works best. Therefore, by tautology, everyone agrees with you. We’re just working out the right amounts.

  46. My last comment reminds me of the joke about the man that asks a woman, “will you have sex with me for a million dollars?”

    The woman says she would.

    He then asks, “Will you for $5?”

    “What do you take me for, a @#!*% ?”

    “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating price.”

    This is the problem I have with discussions about ‘natural rights’ and ‘whether or not income tax is robbery.’ As far as I can tell, it’s all based on linguistic gymnastics that don’t mean much.

    If a natural right is something that can be violated for a moral reason, then why not violate it for the sake of health care? Sure, this isn’t a ‘right’ but who cares, if it’s moral?

    (I am not arguing this, I’m just pointing out that your point of view does not rule this position out except on emotive grounds.)

    This is why I struggle with politics.

  47. Bruce, the answer is obvious, but you’re over-thinking it.

    You have a right to liberty. We should strive for that as much as possible. This should be a goal of government. But we had slaves (even mentioned in the Constitution). This was a direct contradiction of the right to liberty. We struggled to free them. Good thing. But we didn’t allow women the right to vote. Then we passed an amendment. Good thing.

    Today we have a Patriot act that directly contradicts the 4th amendment and affects your liberty. We have the TSA groping passengers. What should we do? Should we sit around arguing that it is a tautology to try to strive for liberty? Or should we try to vote and move for greater liberty?

    Your logic implies that if we already are destroying liberty in one area we should just go ahead and destroy liberty in another area because we’ve already offended natural rights anyway. In fact, we should do the exact opposite. We should realize we have destroyed liberty and try to expand it in ALL areas.

    The same thing applies to taxation and the theft of property through an overbearing federal government. Right now, the system violates property rights. You choose to accept the status quo (apparently). I do not. Will I see a time in my lifetime when we have established the right to property? Probably not, but I’m going to keep on trying.

    So, I don’t agree with your four points.

    1)Taxation IS robbery.
    2)Lower taxes involve less robbery.
    3)If taxes were lowered and government were much smaller, most people would be less alarmed about the robbery taking place (especially because the society would be much more prosperous).
    4)I would probably continue to petition and write and argue that taxation is robbery, although perhaps with less zeal because the offense would not be as blatant and overwhelming as it is today.

    Your logic is off in these two comments.

  48. Geoff, the bottom line is that you are saying there is such a thing as necessary (and therefore in some legitimate sense ‘moral’) robbery. (At least given what I understood you to say.)

    It is this I’m having a hard time with.

    You say this is because I’m ‘over thinking it’ but even this is just an emotive phrase that can mean just about anything you want. I might say that ‘over thiking it’ is equivalent to ‘actually thinking about it to it’s logical consequences.’ They mean the same thing now, but with one having a negative connotation and one positive.

    So call it what you will. Because it doesn’t change the fact that you believe in moral robbery. And since most people think of ‘robbery’ as tautologically immoral, then you are misleading with your words. (Though unintentionally.)

    Instead, I’d prefer that we use words that describe reality better. Perhaps we could say that taxes are not equivalent to what we normally think of as robbery, but they are still a case of taking people’s property through forced extraction and that therefore — despite being necessary and therefore moral — we should minimize it. (i.e. “We should strive for that as much as possible.”)

    I don’t really have a problem with calling taxes ‘robbery’ as long as we all know we don’t really mean it. (Or rather don’t mean it in the sense of it being immoral, which is the usual sense.) It probably makes good sense to try to think of taxes as robbery so that we remember “strive” to keep it low.

  49. Geoff,

    Just a quick point of comparison. It is my understanding that Ayn Rand took the ‘taxes are robbery’ thing to it’s logical conclusions. She believed that the only legitimate taxes were voluntary ones.

    If this could be made to work and we should still have a functioning society, I would have no objection. Since I don’t believe that is possible, it’s not a difficult guess that I’m against the voluntary taxes model.

    But to me *that* is what it means for taxes to be robbery. If we are saying it’s okay in any circumstances, then ‘robbery’ isn’t the right word for it. (At least under common usage.)

    I’m a Popperian, so I’m happy to accept different definitions for words if that’s what you want me to do. But I think it’s legitimate for me to challenge if this is ‘common usuage’ or not first.

  50. Geoff B.
    I agree with a lot of your principles and many of your objectives based on those principles, but I think the concept of all taxation being robbery is problematic. Taking that example, if you don’t pay taxes, but receive the benefit (roads, military, telephone) are you a thief?

    Can you ever not receive a benefit for something? Many people don’t have land phone lines. And yet they still receive vast benefits from that network existing, and being taxed. Are they robbing either the government or their neighbors? (stealing a benefit and not paying for it)

    Taxation is not robbery. It’s something else. But we should be careful, I think not to use words which mean something else, when it’s not. Especially considering the LDS stance on marriage. Call it what you will, but marriage means man/woman. Call it what you will, but robbery means the act of illegally taking from one or another with the threat of force.

    There is a threat of force, but it’s not illegal. So it’s not robbery. And I say this as a pretty serious conservative.

    I will say that progressive taxation and other forms of heavy taxation, and excessive redistribution taxation are often immoral. But it’s not doing ourselves a service to call it robbery when it’s not.

    Just because it’s “bad” doesn’t mean we don’t have to define it properly.

  51. I think that there is a way to have voluntary taxes. They come in the way of tariffs or sales tax. If we were to replace all current taxes with the FAIR tax, then people would naturally pay taxes when they voluntarily buy something.

    With the FAIR tax, everyone gets a monthly prebate, where they are paid the average amount of monthly tax is paid in necessities (food, etc). So taxation is only on things that are not necessary for life, and therefore only on voluntarily purchased items.

    However, it still does not get to the point that much of what the Feds are doing are actually unConstitutional.

  52. Chris and Bruce, I think you are victims of the modern-day welfare state, which has made it difficult for people to think through the “big issuss” in a logical way.

    In one way, you are correct. “Robbery” has two elements: illegality (you go to jail) and immorality (“thou shalt not steal”). So you are obvious correct that taxation is not illegal. You are not correct that it is moral.

    But you are in good company. Locke and the Founding Fathers struggled with this same issue. Locke came to the conclusion that some level of taxation was necessary to maintain a society, but he was so concerned about property rights that he said that taxes could only be raised through a super-majority vote. The Founders were so concerned about taxation being theft that the primary source of federal government revenue until about 100 years ago was a tariff imposed on foreign goods, not on U.S. citizens. NOTE: they still thought taking peoples’ property was morally wrong. Even the California legislature today can only raise taxes through a super-majority. Even Californians recognize that taxation is taking other peoples’ property and is morally wrong.

    This balance between what is moral and what is sometimes necessary happens all the time. Thus:

    Remember, there are three natural rights, life, liberty and property.

    1)You have a right to liberty.
    2)Slavery was legal because we couldn’t deal with this as a society in the 18th century.
    3)Slavery violates liberty and is wrong.
    4)We eventually abolished slavery and restored the right to liberty, but it took time and a lot of lives.

    1)You have a right to life, and society should protect life.
    2)Killing is morally wrong.
    3)If somebody invades your house with the intent to harm you, you can kill him in self-defense.

    1)You have a right to life, and society should protect life.
    2)Abortion takes lives in some cases and certainly takes potential life in all cases.
    3)People will still get abortions even if we make it illegal.
    4)We are not exactly sure when a fetus becomes a human life.
    5)Abortion, even though it is certainly morally wrong, should still be legal in some instances.

    Now, let’s look at abortion. We have 6 billion people on the planet. Imagine a scenario where there were only 100 people on the planet, and all of them were old. Abortion could not be justified in that circumstance because it would mean the extinction of the human race. Therefore, the right to life trumps the “right to choose.”

    Now, the case we are discussing.

    1)You have a right to your property.
    2)Taxation is theft and is wrong because it is forcefully taking your property.
    3)Some level of government must exist, and taxation is currently the only way to finance some level of government.
    4)Because taxation is theft, the amount of money taken from people should be kept to the absolute minimum (as was done in the U.S. for most of the first 150 years or so).

    In the case of abortion, we are arriving, through a long, democratic process, to something approaching an acceptable compromise that is still moral. My prediction is that sometime in the next 15 years Roe v. Wade will be overturned and the issue will return to the states, and the abortion issue will be less contentious. We are very, very far from an acceptable compromise on the issue of the acceptable level of taxation and government, and it is precisely because people have bought the propaganda spewed out by progressives and they have forgotten that taxation is theft.

  53. With the FAIR tax, everyone gets a monthly prebate, where they are paid the average amount of monthly tax is paid in necessities

    This is far and away the worst part of the FAIR tax proposal. It would be the biggest welfare system ever constructed for one thing. Some government services are a necessary of any modern society – courts, police, and national defense, for example.

    If those services are worth paying for, they are worth paying for with the first dollar spent. It is not like people with lower incomes don’t need or don’t benefit from these governmental functions. They have a moral obligation to support them just as much as any other.

    That is reason number one why the FAIR tax will not work. There are others. What might work is a flat, no exemption, no “prebate” national retail sales tax that applies to everyone, plus an income tax that only applies to those with high incomes.

    You might have something like a 12% NRST, plus a 15% income tax on income over $150K a year, for example. The vast majority of the population wouldn’t have to file tax returns, the system would be reasonably progressive at the high end, everyone would contribute, and we wouldn’t suffer the indignity of everyone receiving a government welfare check every month.

  54. Personally I favor replacing the current income tax with the Forbes 17 percent flat tax, which would still be progressive enough without completely destroying incentives to work. I think Forbes proposed that people earning less than $50k a year not pay income taxes at all. That appears to me to be the best proposal yet.

    Rame’s point on the FAIR tax is a good one because a sales tax or VAT is fairer than the income tax. But there is no way we are ever getting rid of the income tax during our lifetimes, so any new national sales tax would be IN ADDITION to our ridiculous income tax system, which would be making a bad situation even worse.

  55. I sympathize with the whole idea of not having two separate taxes, but I don’t see it as a big problem if it actually makes the system fairer. And having half the population not pay anything (net of transfer payments) for the federal government doesn’t strike me as particularly fair.

    The other problem with having people with relatively high incomes pay nearly all the cost of the federal government is that income tax revenues at the high end are extremely unstable. Any time a recession hits, income tax revenues can fall nearly in half. It is a prescription for never ending deficits.

  56. You only have “never ending deficits” if federal government is larger than the money taken in. Indiana had deficits for many years until its current governor, Mitch Daniels, sold off lots of unnecessary government entities (toll roads,etc). This put the state into solvency. Then the Great Recession occurred. He has used some of the 1+ billion surplus, but not much. Instead, he insisted on major cost cutting in the state over the last several years. We’ve maintained a surplus and continued state government at the same time. There’s no reason the feds cannot do the same, if they get beyond partisan politics and do the tough things (as California, New Jersey, and other states are now also doing).

    When there is less money, you do less with less.

    As for the idea that even the poor should pay into the system: in a perfect world, I’d agree. But we are far from that perfect world. If instead, we can just limit them to paying taxes on anything above the necessities, and not giving them the “tax credits” they now receive in the thousands of dollars, we can see they will still be paying into the system whenever they purchase a television or a car, etc. And most poor people in America have at least one car and one television, a cell phone, internet, etc. They would continue paying taxes on these things.

  57. One thing to watch out for with state budgets are the unfunded liabilities of the state worker pensions. This is the issue Gov. Walker and other fiscal conservatives are trying to take on. There are literally trillions in dollars of unfunded liabilities out there (some states are worse than others) that will hit state budgets in the coming years. And when you add the additional burdens of federal requirements for Medicaid and Obamacare, the state budget crunches are only going to get worse. State budgets are getting a slight reprieve this year because many of them raised taxes and are getting some unexpected revenue. This will not last. Don’t buy state and local bonds. You will regret it.

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