Can too many Rights be Wrong?
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Can too many Rights be Wrong?

Rights appears to be all the rage these days. The right to this, that and the other. For example, in the US, the acrimonious debate about healthcare — a right to cheap medical services — is reaching unhealthy levels. Nationalized healthcare (and all other things as well) seems to be the preferred route in the US. It seems everyone has a right to a bail out from the government — sick automobile companies and banks included. In India, the newest right on the horizon is a right to “compulsory and free education.”

That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? Why does there have to be a right to “compulsory and free education”? Here’s what I find confusing. If something is good and free, it wouldn’t have to be made compulsory, would it? Good, free, compulsory, competent, responsible, freedom — some combinations of these don’t go together. If adults are competent to judge what is good, are responsible, and have the freedom to choose what is good for their children, would it be necessary to make education compulsory? So by making education compulsory, the admission is that at least some of these are not true. Perhaps the adults are not competent and responsible. If so, should they be voting? Or more importantly, should these adults be having children?

Things cannot be simultaneously good and need to be mandated for a population which is assumed to be competent and responsible. So if education is good — and free education at that — but has to be made compulsory, it is an admission that people don’t know what is good for them and have to be whipped into compliance, and that given freedom they would not do. So what is it? Are the people a bunch of incompetent irresponsibles who cannot be trusted to know what is good for them or are they not? If yes, then it brings into question the idea of a democracy, that people know what is good for them and should be let to decide for themselves how to govern themselves.

I am very suspicious of any policy that seeks to force people to do something because it would do them good. It is paternalistic, and if paternalism had any beneficial effects on the welfare of a society, then India would have been long ago a developed economy. Cha-cha Nehru and his inheritors are nothing if not paternalistic. Even Mr Manmohan Singh, not even remotely related to Cha-cha Nehru, is all in favor of dictating to the people of India what they must do. Send your children to school or else!

Or else what? Whip the children? Whip the children who cannot go to school on an empty stomach? Maybe imprison the parents who don’t send their children to school. But wait. What happens to the children when you send the parents to jail? Ah, now those children have a right to “state support.” OK, add one more right up there. So now the state has to support the children and also spend money in imprisoning the parents. Who is paying for all this paternalism?

Yes, you are paying for all this. You will be taxed. You are gainfully employed and have an income? OK, here’s the tax bill. Here’s the bill that helps pay for the costs that the rights that the state compulsorily imposes on the people. The state grants all sorts of rights and take away only one right from the people — the right to property.

Mind you, the right to property is not taken away without due process. The process is called “democracy.” John Adams is spinning in his grave. Here’s what he had to say on the matter, for the record .

Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or even if we leave them out of the question, a great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables. Would Mr. Nedham be responsible that, if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If “Thou shalt not covet,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free. [The Works of John Adams. 1787.]

The democratically elected government — whether in the US or in India — is here to help you. It will make sure that it will give rights to people whether they like it or not and make sure that it will tax you to pay for all the costs that the rights give rise to and in exchange you will give up the rights to the fruits of your labor. So you should actually stop laboring. And when you do stop laboring, perhaps the government will introduce a right to free food and free housing — and free healthcare, and free and compulsory education. And free entertainment. And then we will be in socialist heaven — exactly as Cha-cha Nehru wanted for and as the government of the US wants for the Americans.

Good night, good luck, and may your god go with you.