From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?

Full post here.

Our author challenges a Stephen Spruiell piece from The National Review in which Spruiell claims that health care is not a right because it isn’t one of the “negative” rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, neither I nor the government nor anybody else owes you the “right” to health care, because it’s not really a “right” in the first place.  

Our author claims that if health care doesn’t meet this “negative right” standard, maybe individual property ownership doesn’t either:

“The establishment by governments and quasi-governments of a regime of individual ownership has costs and benefits.  On the one hand, it creates the incentive to make the land more productive.  On the other hand, it creates an elite class of property owners and deprives others of opportunity to use resources that are naturally held in common”   

He quotes much Thomas Paine to arrive at his position, summarizing Paine thus:

Individual property rights are here recognized as “of a distinct species” from the “common right of all” to benefit from natural resources.  Paine is commenting directly on the Lockean standard and fairly clearly rejects it.”

That’s John Locke.  (See Also:  Jean-Jacques Rousseau “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains…”)  After Paine, our author offers that property ownership “rights” perhaps don’t meet the natural right standard either.   He finishes with:

“I am with Paine that government is not only justified but obligated to provide compensation.  Taxation supported public services like health, education, welfare, and infrastructure fulfill this obligation.”

This is a not entirely unreasonable argument (a decent one in light of Milton Friedman in his later years) and I think the main goal here is to challenge Spruiell’s in the box, partisan thinking.

Yet, as for me, I’m still with Locke.  My right to property goes deeper than any social contract (Paine’s thinking too).  I already trust my government to conditionally maintain such a contract, so why grant it the license mentioned above?  

I’m already paying taxes for health, education, welfare and infrastructure anyways.  

Addition:  A Susan Pashkoff, who seems to know a lot about Locke, responds in the comments.  Well worth a read.

Locke by stnastopoulos

by stnastopoulos

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2 thoughts on “From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?

  1. Hi. I had cross posted that as a diary at Dailykos to see what folks there would say. I was convinced by a commenter there that Paine may not be departing much at all from Locke, depending on one’s interpretation of some key passages in the 2nd Treatise on Government. I’m promised on my blog a response spelling this out in detail, so check back there tomorrow.

    The fundamental property right, according to perhaps both Locke and Paine, may be the “common right of all” to use natural resources to survive and prosper: a motivation, perhaps, for Locke’s impossible as-much-and-as-good clause. Individual properties rights, as we conceive of them, are in this perspective just one way of managing that common right, given scarcity of resources. One way of looking at Paine’s position, with which I am sympathetic, is that if there are losers in the system of private property–who are as Paine puts it “dispossessed… of their natural inheritance” of common property–then the common right of property obligates compensation. To put things in Locke’s terms, what is to be done about the fact that it is after all impossible given finitude of reasources to actually leave behind “as much and as good”? The typical answer I get from libertarian minded folks is something along the lines of “well nevermind that part–who knows what he was thinking there anyway”. He may well have been thinking somewhat along the lines Paine was.

  2. Thanks for the post and the response. I”ll check it out.

    Any mention of “common right to all” and most libertarians are on the defensive. I guess I am too.

    I agree that resources are scarce, but I’m not sure I agree that the goal of justifying compensation (government’s job) for loss of use “or common right” to natural resources is what Locke intended. Isn’t this an argument for say, reparations? or common property? I’ll have to check out Locke again, too.

    There’s clearly inequity in the system of private property, but eroding the protection of individual property rights in favor of government oversight seems even worse.

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