Negative Rights, Positive Goods
Many on the left argue with those of us opposed to government that our conception of freedom is not worth much if we don’t have the material goods with which to live. They ask; what good is freedom of speech or contract if you do not have enough to eat? What good is a libertarian conception of freedom if you can’t get healthcare? They posit a world of “positive” rights. This is why you hear them state that people have a right to healthcare or a right to housing or a right to food. The stated corollary is that because these are rights, government must enforce these rights by providing these things to those who have difficulty obtaining them. All of this is contrasted with the more traditional conception of rights as being negative; the right to be free from interference, the right to be left alone or more broadly stated; the right to live as you choose so long as you do not interfere with others’ similar rights.
Probably the most famous expression of the leftist view of rights is FDR’s “4 Freedoms”; the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and the freedom from want. On a surface level this seems appealing. I mean we all want food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. for ourselves and our families and neighbors. So what is to argue with about any of this? Quite a bit actually.
Morally the case being made by the left is that they have the “right” to make other people provide these things for you. The entire notion of positive rights entails the right to expropriate the fruits of someone else’s labor and put it to a use that seems better in the eye of the expropriator. The word for this process is theft, which makes it a 7th. Commandment violation. The clear use of violence to enforce these so-called positive rights should give us a clue as to their true nature and speciousness. I have discussed this here.
I do not, however, wish to focus on the moral aspect as much as the practical aspect. We know that ours is a practical God that would not give us a way to live without that way being practically useful. So, in response to those who argue for positive rights to all the things that make life livable, we offer the one sure way to maximize these things; radical free markets. It is always worth remembering that as a species we cannot consume more than we produce. So if we want to consume more then we must produce more. In short we do that by enforcing negative rights; the right to freely live our lives and interact with others as we see fit and to keep the fruits of our labor.
Do radical free markets in fact maximize the production of goods and services for consumption? I reviewed the theoretical case for this here, as well as dispelled the Marxist driven myth that labor is being exploited. What about empirical results? What is the history of systems driven by markets as opposed to systems driven by governments? It is somewhat depressing that as late as 2018 we have to have this conversation with those who deny both economic science and the plain history of humanity, but so be it.
The most recent data once again confirms that there is a clear correlation between economic freedom and prosperity. Societies organized around limited government principles and respect for human rights and the rule of law do better economically than those that have a large state apparatus. This is backed up by the history of the last 300 years. It was Western Europe that more closely aligned with free market principles and subsequently became vastly wealthier than the rest of the world. It is true that no nation has ever had a completely free market or a completely socialized one for that matter but the closer one gets to a free market the greater the prosperity and vice versa.
The left will almost assuredly respond by discussing those left behind by the capitalist system. What about the poor? What about income inequality? I can go point by point through every objection and behind every one of these real problems we discover a government interference in the marketplace. I have discussed some of the more egregious examples here and here. It is nonsensical to criticize the market by pointing to problems that are demonstrably shown to be caused by the government. Government programs that invariably screw those of modest means and limited political power.
We don’t even really need to go into deep economic reasoning or dive into wonkish data sets to understand that free markets produce more than controlled one’s. Our own experience with the history in our own lifetime can readily explain this for us. Who had a more comfortable material existence the Western world for the communist bloc? Where is all the wealth being created and consumed, the Western world or the rest of the planet? Is the flow of migrants and refugees going to the more free market societies or away from them? What is the experience of post-WWII Japan and Korea in becoming freer? Did they become richer or poorer? What is the experience of previously wealthy nations who socialized their economies, like Venezuela? Did they become richer or poorer. This picture captures it all:
Where are the lights on? We know intuitively the answer to the practical question of which system procures the goods and which system produces misery. Do not fall for the left’s siren song of seeking to protect positive rights. That will only lead to throwing away all we have built in a spasm of sinful stupidity.
If we want positive goods to make life materially better, especially for those left out and ground under, then enforce negative rights. Leave people alone to freely live their lives and interact with one another in a non-violent consensual manner. Then stand in awe at the productive power of all God’s children to make this a better world, better by living as God intended us to.
Praise Be to God