A right by any other name

What is a right? Stop and think about it for a second. How do you define it? The word “right” gets thrown around quite a lot these days. Everyone, it seems, has a right to something. A right to education, a right to healthcare, a right to feel safe, a right to defend themselves and on and on. So how do you separate a true right from a want?

The definition of a right has expanded over the last several decades. Lawyers and politicians have certainly helped in that expansion. And with that expansion has come misunderstanding. A true right is something you are born with. It is yours simply because you exist in this world as a person. The other aspect of it, and the one that is often overlooked, is that it is also free. It costs nothing. Think about the Bill of Rights of the United States. Arguably one of the most important documents ever written, and one that most people know at least a little bit about. What do each of the first ten amendments have in common? They belong to everyone at birth and they cost nothing to be granted. In fact, the only time they have a price tag is when the government tries to fight against them or tries to levy charges against citizens.

The first amendment, which guarantees your right to say what you want, worship who you want, and be around who you want, costs nothing. You can do all those things without costing another citizen a single cent. The same can be said for the second amendment, which is the right to keep and bear arms; it is also free. If you want a gun, you can go purchase one, but no other citizen is forced to purchase one for you. The list continues with the third amendment, the right to refuse to allow the government to use your home to house soldiers, the fourth amendment, which is essentially the right to privacy, the fifth amendment, etc. In fact, the only rights in the Bill of Rights that cost anything may be the sixth and seventh amendments which deal with the right to a jury trial and an attorney. But even then, it only costs something if the government attempts to charge you with crimes. Essentially, it is a fee imposed on the government to take other rights away, i.e., your freedom.

There are arguments and laws in the modern era that also follow this pattern. A great majority of fighting for civil rights had to do with equal treatment under the law, which again, is free. It doesn’t cost us citizens, or any government entity, a single thing to apply laws fairly across all citizens.

So why list all of those and note their cost? Because frequently the things that people clamor for, like healthcare, education, and universal income are not actually rights. They are wants. And while they are legitimate wants, and ones that we should strive for in our society in terms of education and healthcare, they can never be classified as rights. To classify something as a right means that a person has it at birth and can use it at will. With healthcare as the example, this is impossible to guarantee because it costs resources. It costs money in overhead, it costs labor in nursing personnel, and it costs specialized knowledge in doctors and surgeons. To classify something like healthcare as a right, means that technically the government could force the providers to give it to the citizens under any circumstances.

So, when you hear someone says something is their right, stop and ask yourself if that’s really the case. In a situation where someone else must provide the goods or services for a “right,” the government could force that person to provide those goods or services under any circumstances it sees fit, and for whatever payment it thinks is fair. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the common term for this sort of arrangement is…slavery.

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