by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Some bad ideas we recoil from morally: Nazism, for instance. Others do not come with the same kind of emotional charge, and those have a way of sneaking into all corners of life while we are not paying attention. Governing on the basis of positive rights is one of these. If you thought positive rights vs. negative rights was something you’d never need to worry about again after your Political Philosophy 101 final, you were wrong. …
… Positive rights run into some pretty obvious problems if you think about them for a minute, which is why so much of our political discourse is dedicated to moralistic thundering specifically designed to prevent such thinking. Consider, in the American context, the notion that health care is a right.
Declaring a right in a scarce good such as health care is intellectually void, because moral declarations about rights do not change material facts. If you have five children and three apples and then declare that every child has a right to an apple of his own, then you have five children and three apples and some meaningless posturing — i.e., nothing in reality has changed, and you have added only rhetoric instead of adding apples. In the United States, we have so many doctors, so many hospitals and clinics, so many MRI machines, etc. This imposes real constraints on the provision of health care. If my doctor works 40 hours a week, does my right to health care mean that a judge can order him to work extra hours to accommodate my rights? For free? If I have a right to health care, how can a clinic or a physician charge me for exercising my right? If doctors and hospitals have rights of their own — for example, property rights in their labor and facilities — how is it that my rights supersede those rights?