I’m going to remind libertarians of many thing they already know, but generally forget they know when it comes to the idiotic national conversation we’ve had about healthcare in the last decade.
First, rights are not what the government gives out to its citizens; rights are what the government — in our nation, with our definition of governance — is required to protect. That is the sole government responsibility regarding rights. What the government gives out to citizens are called entitlements, and the list of entitlements the US Constitution authorizes our government to dispense are as follows:
1. not a damned thing;
2. the list ended three bullet-points ago.
Second, rights are free for the taking, but they are certainly not free. They are simply what the government leaves the citizen alone to acquire for himself, to the degree the citizen wishes it, and has the capacity to acquire or make use of it. The examples to illustrate this are infinite. The Fifth Amendment, for example, acknowledges a citizen’s right to property. But property does not appear out of thin air; it generally belongs to someone else first. Does a citizen’s right to property compel the current owner of the property to deed it over to the citizen who desires it?
Of course not; that is both stupid and confiscatory. What the right to property permits is the current owner and the potential future owner to arrive at a mutually agreeable price and other terms under which the transfer of ownership shall be made. The government isn’t obliged to give anyone forty acres and a mule, nor to compel others to provide same. If a citizen wants these things, the citizen is instructed to save his money and find someone who wishes to trade for it.
Third, rights include — essentially — everything that isn’t nailed down. Rights are, Constitutionally:
1] not limited to what Amendments 1-8 specify as rights [9thAM];
2] include every aspect of human interaction not directly given to the federal government and not prohibited to the states to control [10thAM]; AND
3] the states are prohibited from legislatively controlling anything that was not also given to the feds [14thAM, Sec 1].
Protectable rights are, in a very real sense, any power to act that is not listed in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution as a power for Congress to make law upon — and those Congressional powers to legislate are very very few. Congress is given no authority, for example, to regulate who is allowed to use our roads, therefore driving is a right. States cannot deny that right in their own laws, though they are allowed to regulate how the roads are used — speed limits, rights of way, skills tests, et cetera.
Congress is given no authority, for another example, to regulate who may marry whom, therefore marrying your homosexual lover is a right. States may not deny that right in their own laws, though they may regulate certain aspects of marriage, such as the minimum age necessary.
These are all things that libertarians comprehend about rights. Hell, these are all things that virtually all Americans, libertarian or not and adequately inculcated in American civics, understand about rights, even if they do not like the specific consequences. …and I’m thinking particularly of the religious right morons and gay marriage, here. Even they understand this, as it makes their skin crawl.
So how is it, then, that we conveniently throw all this comprehension of rights to the four winds when the subject becomes healthcare? Healthcare is not an issue given to the government to control; it is therefore a right. Why do we indulge the facile and insupportable, and claim a governmental role in healthcare when government involvement does not join with any other right?
We have the right to say what we wish. But if we have stage fright, does the government provide us assertiveness training? No it does not. If we are inarticulate stumble-tongues, does the government provide us speech therapy? No it does not, not even when Dubya is elected President and could have used it. Does the government provide a bullhorn? …a soapbox? Does the government reserve a sidewalk on a popular street corner? …compel the first four hundred random passers-by to stop and grant rapt attention? And if we are unable to think of anything to say, does the government provide a pre-written speech?
No. It does not. Our right to say what we wish begins and ends with our own willingness and ability to actually use the damned thing. If we cannot speak in public, or cannot make others listen, or cannot think of what to say that anyone would want to hear, the government has no obligation or duty to assist. The lack of government providence does not negate our freedom of speech.
We have the right to write what we wish. But if we are illiterate and cannot strings words together into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into thematic essays, does the government provide literacy training? No, it does not. Even when it tries to it doesn’t. …as anyone even marginally familiar with public education in the United States knows. If we have nothing to write with, does it give us a pen? If we have nothing to write on, does it give us paper? If we have a batshit manifesto burning a hole in our Kaczyniskiist hovel, does the government provide us a publisher?
No. None of these things. And yet, the absence of government assistance does not erase our freedom of the press.
We have the right to marry the person of our dreams, because the Constitution does not give the government the power to stop us. But if that person does not wish to marry us back, does the government compel the object of our affection to meet us at the altar?
Of course not. Logistically, it would be a nightmare for people like Jennifer Aniston. But this doesn’t affect our right to marry whom we wish.
We have the right to employment, because the Constitution does not give the government the power to prevent it. But if a citizen wishes to be employed as the bazillionaire CEO of Microsoft, does the government oust Bill Gates and install the new hire? If a citizen wishes to be employed as the next Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, does the government do lunch with George Lucas and make it happen? If a citizen simply wants to be hired by any old company at any old position making any old amount of money, does the government impose itself to make even that happen?
Absolutely not, and this still doesn’t deny our right to a job. Something about a free market.
We have the right to buy the shirt we like, the sports car we want, the home we pine after in the neighborhood we covet; in short, to acquire property. But if we don’t have the money necessary to complete the transactions, does the government give us the money? Alternately, does the government coerce the transaction without it?
Certainly not. If we need money to buy what we want, we are advised to avail ourselves of our right to a job. But the government’s hands-off attitude toward our right to accumulate property does not invalidate our right to accumulate property. Our failure to accumulate the property we want only speaks to our priorities, financial abilities and other manifestations of a free market, and nothing else.
We have the right to a haircut, a pedicure, a Papa John’s pizza, and a Caribbean cruise — and every other service you can name. But if we don’t have the money for these because we used all our money on that fancy sports car two paragraphs ago, does the government step in with the cash? …with coercion? …with even so much as a coupon?
Not a chance. A commercial service being a right does not suddenly imbue the government with the authority to compel the service to be provided, nor its terms and conditions. More free marketeering.
Healthcare is a right simply because the government is given no defined authority to control it. It is a service — just like the haircut we have a right to get. Our right to acquire healthcare, as with the haircut, does not grant the government any authority to compel it, nor to set the terms and conditions of its acquisition. Our ability to acquire healthcare rests entirely with us, with our priorities, and with our financial abilities. The free market, when applied to the right of healthcare, does not suddenly mean that the commodity being sought must be free of cost, or that the cost must be borne by the government.
Yet healthcare today is exclusively discussed as a government providence. This is what democrats use to base their baseless belief that it is a right, and what republicans and libertarians use to claim that it is not.
Libertarians should know better. Libertarians should be smart enough to avoid the equivocative word traps laid out by the mealy-mouthed Bernie “Trotsky” Sanders and other “progressives”. Any libertarian who does not know, and cannot recite at a moment’s notice, the very specific and crucial difference between a right and an entitlement has no claim to calling himself a libertarian.
This is a “taxation is theft” moment in a “taxation is theft” conversation. Rights are what the government leaves you alone to get for yourself; entitlements are what the government gives you. This is true whether it is speech, press, property, employment, pedicures or a prescription. If the government is providing healthcare, coercing it upon reluctant patients and setting the terms and conditions for its providers, then it is an entitlement and not a right. If healthcare is a right — and it is — then the government must stay out of the picture.
As libertarians, we know this. Let’s pretend we’re libertarian, m’kay?