“I like freedom…as long as everyone makes the right [my] choice”

From Walter Williams recent column:

Negative freedom or rights refers to the absence of constraint or coercion when people engage in peaceable, voluntary exchange. Some of these negative freedoms are enumerated in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. More generally, at least in its standard historical usage, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people. As such, a right imposes no obligation on another.

Positive rights is a view that people should have certain material things — such as medical care, decent housing and food — whether they can pay for them or not. 

What the positive rights tyrants want but won’t articulate is the power to forcibly use one person to serve the purposes of another.

There is an important distinction to be made between “rights” that do and do not force obligations on others.

Recognizing this distinction was a critical step on my path away from neo-liberal. It sounded good to say things like, “Everybody has a right to food or medical care”, while never fully considering the invisible clause attached to that, “so that means that someone be forced to provide it.”

But, sometimes I did say it. In discussions some folks asked, “Can’t we handle that through charity?”

I made the invisible clause visible, “Charity isn’t good enough.” But, I still hadn’t made the connection that I was saying that others be forced to provide my priority. Government provides a shroud for that.

I heard an example of this on a radio talk show this week. The Host and a Caller were discussing the differences in their values. The Caller said he agreed with Obamacare, but claimed that his values were shared with the Host’s (who did not support Obamacare).

The Host said that the Caller’s values requires everyone do what the Caller says, whether they want to or not. The Host’s values do not. He was talking about positive and negative liberty.

It was obvious the Caller had not considered that before, because he immediately tried to change the subject.

I recall the feeling I had the first time I pulled back the shroud of government and realized that my support for positive rights meant trampling the freedom of others. It dawned on me, what right do I have to force everyone to do it my way?

Like many others, I viewed politics as the place to earn that right. It seemed like a sport where winning earned your team the right to force everyone to do it your way.

But several things made me consider differently.

1. Double standard. There are times when I disagreed with what others were forcing on me through government and I thought my reasons for disagreement were more than valid. These weren’t situations of necessarily being ‘right or wrong’, but just seeing things differently.

It seemed inconsistent for me to want to force my priorities on others who may see things differently than I did.

Perhaps it wouldn’t result in as many dollars for my priority, but I realized that persuading others to join forces could work and didn’t require the double standard of wanting to force things on others, while resisting that they force things on me.

2. Bad rationale. No matter how good the rationale to force sounds, it could be wrong, and often is. It could have unintended consequences that more than offset the intended benefits. It may never even come close to achieving the intended benefit.

3. Bad feedbacks of government. Markets are results-based. People reward things that actually produce value. Those that don’t go away.

Politics is more intention-based, rather than results-based.  Politicians are rewarded if their nice-sounding legislation gets signed into law. They are rarely punished when it fails or causes more damage. We hear people excuse the failure, “but, at least it was the right thought.” And, rather than getting rid of the failed legislation, other politicians try to fix it, with even more legislation and money.

When you combine 2 & 3, you get a recipe for growth disasters, while in markets you have a recipe for growth.


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