Today we’re going to cover one of my favorite, but one of the more frustrating topics that seems to confuse even the most informed conservatives, liberals, and libertarians alike. Something that I personally think should be obvious to people, but nonetheless is a topic of hot debate among Americans today, is that healthcare, in any form, is not a right and cannot be guaranteed to anybody.
Before I explain more in depth why healthcare is not a right, let’s go further in our examination and first ask, “what is a right?”
What is a right?
As Professor Aeon Skoble from Bridgewater State University explains, “generally, rights are moral concepts that establish the conditions in which we interact”. Rights are the basic liberties we are guaranteed at birth that ensure our ability to interact with nature. Rights give us due representation when facing the tyranny of the majority. However, many, especially on the left, have misconstrued the idea of a right to the idea that we are entitled to the resources that serve our necessities.
Professor Skoble elaborates that there are two different kinds of rights – Positive Rights and Negative Rights. First, it should be made clear that Positive means that somebody must actively do something in order for you to maintain that right, and Negative means that it requires everybody to not do something in order to maintain your right. Let me explain:
I start with negative rights because these are the ones that you are probably most familiar with. Negative rights are what we call Liberties. As stated previously, in order for these rights to be maintained, it requires people to not do something. The right to free speech, the right to defend oneself, the right to privacy, the right to free movement, etc. are conditions that require people to avoid interference with your animation so that you may interact freely. These rights require our individual independence. It is important to notice that these rights are verbs and do not require resources. The right to free speech means that you are allowed to speak freely, it costs nothing. The right to defend yourself means you have the right to use force when under attack, it costs nothing. The right to free movement means you are allowed to move without interference, it costs nothing. There is no end product, and no resources are required to maintain these rights.
Positive rights are the dangerous, tricky ones. These are the ones that are often hotly debated, and have become the compass of civil liberal philosophy. Positive rights are what we call Entitlements. They require somebody else to take action, or take a positive role in maintaining your entitlement. In addition, these rights require an end product and ultimately cost resources. Now, do positive rights exist? Yes. When you are arrested, you have a right to a lawyer and a trial. You also have a right to all of the necessities required for your survival, because your negative rights have been suspended. When negative rights are suspended, the person affected becomes dependent on the positive actor. This means that it is incumbent on the positive actor to provide whatever is necessary to maintain the affected party’s survival. Note that positive rights are products and require resources. Positive rights effect the bearer of the cost, the person or people providing the service, and the one receiving the product. A lawyer and a trial are costs that the state takes on in an attempt to sufficiently prove your guilt.
So why is Healthcare not a right?
It’s quite simple: If healthcare were a right it would require that the resources and labor needed would be infinite. Positive rights also require that negative rights be suspended. You can not be independently dependent. The supposed rights to healthcare, shelter, food, water, and clothing would require that somebody takes on the cost and labor of retrieving and organizing the resources necessary. Economics is the process of solving scarcity: the idea that there is an unlimited want and only a limited number of resources. If we were guaranteed this entitlement, we would also have to guarantee that these resources are available to every patient. A right to healthcare would mean hospitals would be forced to bear costs they cannot pay, doctors would be forced to perform procedures regardless of will, and eventually the money will run out when there is no incentive to produce. The end result would be decrepit hospitals, poorly performing doctors, and wait times that would put those in critical condition at risk of losing their lives.
What’s the alternative?
Currently, the healthcare market is largely inflated by subsidies, tax breaks, and a government role. A business can only run when there are people who are willing to pay the price of the product. If government handouts for healthcare didn’t exist, then hospitals would be forced to lower their costs to provide the service at an affordable price. This is called a managed healthcare system. Hospitals and other healthcare providers seek to cut down on costs wherever possible in order to provide the lowest price to undercut rival competition. The ultimate undercut to competition is something that is free of cost, so when government provides a free alternative, private healthcare providers must then market their product as a luxury, and can raise prices accordingly. The free market is designed to play to man’s natural tendencies. If one wants to make money, one must sell it at a price that people are willing to pay. If people can run to a free service, then what is the point in lowering costs?
The healthcare debate strikes an emotional cord with most people you talk to. People want to believe healthcare is a right because they cannot imagine a society that would “let people die on the street”. It’s good they cannot imagine this because it would never exist, even in the libertarian world. Even today, Catholic hospitals provide free care to those who cannot pay, and this care is paid for by voluntary donations to the hospitals. People would feel more responsibility to help each other, knowing that they cannot kick that responsibility off to the state. In any case, it is immoral and counter intuitive to suggest that we must force people to pay for and work for somebody else’s healthcare. “Economic Rights” do not exist in a free world, only individual rights do.