Rights Versus Wishes – Walter E. Williams

In this article titled Rights Versus Wishes, the great Walter E. Williams explains the difference between rights, defined historically, and rights, defined by the political left. Many many people have told me they think healthcare is a right. When I say healthcare is not a right, they are shocked. I go on to explain what I mean by “a right”. I tell them healthcare is not a right, it is an economic good that is produced by individuals in the market. It is the property of the individual who produced it, and you have no “right” to that individuals property. Unless they give it to you, out of goodness of their heart, or you mutually agree on a fee for service, the only way you can acquire it is by theft.

The difficulty in talking with people about issues starts when a particular word or phrase means something different to both parties. If there is no agreed upon meaning of words, we talk past each other and nothing gets accomplished. When I talk to people, I’ll ask them what does (ie) “a right” mean to you in order to find a starting point to have a conversation. You can’t talk logically to a person unless you have a starting point understood by both parties.


“In the standard historical usage of the term, a “right” is something that exists simultaneously among people. As such, a right imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference. Similarly, I have a right to travel freely. Again, that right imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference.

“Contrast those rights to free speech and travel with the supposed rights of medical care and decent housing. Those supposed rights do impose obligations upon others…..If one does not have money to pay for a medical service or decent housing and the government provides it, where do you think the government gets the money?”

“…Congress does not have any resources of its own, the only way for Congress to give one American something is to first take it from some other American. In other words, if one person has a right to something he did not earn, it requires another person’s not having a right to something he did earn.

…this bogus right to free speech and travel imposes obligations on others to supply me with an auditorium, microphone and audience. My right to travel freely would require that others provide me with resources to purchase plane tickets and hotel accommodations. If I were to demand others sacrifice so I can exercise my free speech and travel rights….most Americans would say, “Williams, yes, you have rights to free speech and traveling freely, but I’m not obligated to pay for them!”

“....I do not have a right to take one person’s earnings to give to another. Because I have no such right, I cannot delegate it to government. If I did take your earnings to provide medical services for another, it would rightfully be described and condemned as an act of theft. When government does the same, it’s still theft, albeit legalized theft.”

If you’re a Christian or a Jew, you should be against these so-called rights. When God gave Moses the eighth commandment — “Thou shalt not steal” — I am sure that he did not mean “thou shalt not steal unless there is a majority vote in Congress.” The bottom line is medical care, housing and decent jobs are not rights at all, at least not in a free society; they are wishes. As such, I would agree with most Americans — because I, too, wish that everyone had good medical care, decent housing and a good job.”

Related ArticleThe Economics of Healthcare vs The Right To Healthcare, at austrianaddict.com.

Related ArticleThe Reality Of Obamacare, Socialism In Installments, at austrianaddict.com.


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