Video of the Week: Health Care is a Wish, not a Right

Professor Williams makes the distinction between a right and a wish.

I like this comparison:

“Now when somebody is talking about a “right” to health care, whether he can pay for it or not, that’s not a right because that imposes an obligation on somebody else. . . it of necessity means that somebody else does not have a right to what he earned because the government does not get the money from the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.”

2 responses

I would disagree with Williams’ rejecting positive rights out of hand. Rights are a social construction, arising (imperfectly) from a given governance structure (i.e. state, culture, social norms, etc.).

I would agree that rights should be universal, and given this positive rights become more difficult. But in examining this issue we are forced to examine more basic issues in governance. Why and how to societies come together? It has to do with reciprocity; gains from trade give people a reason to come together, and social rules (i.e. law, in the Hayekian sense) allow them to spend less time protecting themselves and more time being productive. We all have a right to be productive generally unharassed because the set of rules that allow that to happen evolved over time until we could say that people really had those rights.

For positive rights to arise and be universal, they must center around the idea of reciprocity. If there is no gain from providing for someone else’s positive rights, we should expect it to be too difficult to actually have such rights. Then if we do what Professor Williams suggests and ask what people did before, we will only initially be surprised that people did give to charity, roads were privately built, and the justification for government becomes significantly less apparent in many areas.

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