Can Medicine, Housing, etc. be "rights"?

I claim the "right" to speak freely and to travel freely. These are "natural" rights, because I can do them myself, and they do not inherently detract from any of your rights. It is certainly possible for me to speak or walk about without taking anything from you, or preventing you from doing the same. Unless I interpret my "right" to speak as requiring you to give me a stage and a microphone, and my "right" to travel as requiring you to give me a car and a road.

How, then, can "medicine" qualify as the same sort of "right" as speach? How can I have a "right" to surgery, unless some other person is forced to provide me a building, a surgeon's efforts, and equipment? A very interesting point made by one of my favorite geniuses, Walter Williams.


Tom Philpott said...

You demand the right to travel freely, but forget the literally trillions of dollars that have gone into creating and maintaining the highway system, surely (whatever else it is) a giant subsidy to the global car industry. (I love it when people say Amtrak isn't efficient, because it loses money despite the pittance it draws from the government. Ever wonder what would happen to the car industry without regular infusions of cash, may orders of magnitude higher than what trains get, for road maitenance?) You demand the right to speak freely, but willingly surrender it when you show up at work in the morning.

Paul Hue said...

Tom: The right to travel freely does not inherently require the efforts and materials of other people. Other citizens and I might vote to tax all citizens, and use some of the money to create roads. Or, we might not. Not having roads created by tax dollars would not stop me from walking up Bareback Mountain with Nadir's dad, provided that the owner of the mountain gave us permission.

Now, if I interpreted my right to travel as an obligation for you to let me onto your front yard, or Nadir's dad to build me a road, now we have left the realm of "natural, unalianable rights", as our founding fathers understood them.

Paul Hue said...

Tom: People have the capacity to speak; "god" gave them this capacity. In order to speak, they need nothing from anybody else. That's why philosophers call it a "natural right", and it is these rights that the founders decided that their government would be the first ever (known to them) to not curtail. The "right" to a house that somebody else builds and pays for, or medicine that somebody else purchases or impliments, cannot qualify as "natural" rights, or "inalienable" rights.

The "right" to free speach does not imply that you cannot expel me from the house that you own if you don't like me calling your mom a whore. But it does -- or should -- prevent you coming into my home, or my news studio or editorial office, and halting me from diseminating ideas that other citizens chose to purchase.

Paul Hue said...

Tom: The free speach strictures demanded by Bill O'Reilly, Jessee Jackson, and the Taliban interfere with the "right" of you and me to engage in mutually agreed upon conduct that neither requires efforts nor materials from others, nor interferes with their own capacity to enter into such interactive behavior amongst themselves.

Bill O'Reilly urges Colorado voters to demand that their legislators withold funding from the University of Colorado until its regents fire Ward Churchill. But Churhill and his students have agreed to enter into classrooms together, for him to say that the US caused 911 (or whatever), and they will listen. Does permitting that interfere with Bill O'Reilly (or other studnets) from entering other classrooms with other professors and hearing otherwise? No. Thus Bill O'Reilly wants to curtail speach.

And so do Nadir's "World Can't Wait" friends who interrupted Alberto Gonzelez's speach about torturing.

Ford Motor Company does not halt my free speech because I have agreed to their terms in exchange for a paycheck. I am free to break that contract, and to a very great extent I can go around and speak freely.