© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. “… that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Thomas Jefferson
We have a national conversation going about our “rights” in society. In 1776, the three were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which in earlier drafts read the pursuit of property. During the time of President Franklin Roosevelt there was a push to increase the rights.
In 1941 Roosevelt spoke about the four freedoms considered four rights that should be available to all Americans. They are: the freedom of speech, freedom to worship God, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. The controversy was freedom from want and fear. Is it even possible to be free of wants and fears?
Later Roosevelt proposed eight additional rights: the right to a useful and remunerative job. The right to earn enough money. The right of farmers to have a decent living.
Also, the right of businessmen to have freedom from unfair competition. The right of every family to a decent home. The right to adequate medical care along with the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
Finally, there is the right to a good education. Not any education, a good education.
So, do you have a right to clean water and air? Do you have a right to transportation? Do you have a right to retire when you wish? Do you have a right to entertainment?
The problem is that some rights come with a price tag. Someone must pay, whom will that be? If each of us has the right to a good education, do we have to pay for it? Is it a right and other Americans must provide this or medical care regardless of if we pay because it’s a right?
That is a slippery slope when we start taking the productive ability of Americans and without compensation giving their productiveness to other Americans. It is like the notion of a one hundred percent tax on some people. Sounds like government would get lots of money but that is not true because if we were taxed at one hundred percent, taxed such that we received nothing for working, it is likely we would quit.
It’s a convenient talking point that all Americans have a right to adequate medical care. Do they have that right without compensation to the people providing the care? Do care professionals have a right to be compensated? Where is the line?
Usually at a traffic accident, each of us is obligated to help, but is it a right for injured people? By getting into an accident do they have the right to compel us to act? Perhaps, or is that an ordinance rather than a right? Different things when we call that a right.
Years ago, I was working as a school photographer and that day set up at an elementary school in Tucumcari, New Mexico. During the morning, a rough looking hombre walked up to the seat and before sitting down said to me, “I’ve got a Constitutional Right not to smile.”
I said, “You’ve got it Bud.” He was happy and looked happy as I took the picture. I understood that he didn’t want one of those cheesy pictures. He wanted dignity. I was glad to give it to him but I didn’t think it a Constitutional Right. It was professional.
How do we deal when two people with rights are in conflict? It is like the question: if one endangered species is eating another endangered species what should we do? It is tough to decide since if you do not let the first species eat that species will die. And if you do then the other species becomes more endangered. It is fundamentally the same issue with rights.
The Income Tax which came about in 1913 takes part of your productivity. It is considered the right of society to take your productivity. How much of a right is there? Can you take most of someone’s wages because of the supposed right of redistribution? Very slippery slope. Maybe we should go back to only three rights.