Two concepts of liberty: Real liberty and socialist liberty
There is a longstanding debate about two concepts of liberty, positive or negative. Positive liberty essentially means that you, or the state, has a right to deprive some people of their property to provide other people with services. But, while many might argue there are good reasons for doing it, this is a false concept of liberty, and we must be clear in saying so
I like sharing topical items for 4th of July week.
** In 2010, I contemplated the challenging issue of libertarians and patriotism. My view, for what it’s worth, is captured by this t-shirt.
** In 2011, I pondered research about the partisan implications of patriotism and the 4th of July.
** In 2012, I shared an inspirational video about freedom and individualism from Ronald Reagan.
** In 2013, I discussed the proper meaning of patriotism in the aftermath of revelations about NSA snooping.
** In 2014, I decided on a humorous approach with one a Remy video about government being “up in your grill.”
** In 2015, I waded into the controversial topic of what happens when flag burning meets the modern regulatory state.
** In 2016, I looked at how government has increased the cost of celebrating Independence Day.
I actually did two columns in 2011. I also put together a satirical Declaration of Dependence for my left-wing friends. Here’s how it started.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people should be made equal, that they are endowed by their government with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are jobs, healthcare and housing."
But Bernie Sanders must have read it and took it seriously, at least if this tweet is any indication."Republicans talk a lot about freedom and choice. But you cannot truly be free if you can't afford health care or food or medicine."
In other words, he’s saying you have a “right” that is predicated on other people paying for you.
When I first saw that tweet, the first thing that came to mind was the cartoonabout the choice between “work hard” and “free stuff.”
And I wondered whether Senator Sanders actually understands what he’s saying. In other words, is he crazy, blind, or evil?
Or perhaps immoral? In his Washington Times column, Richard Rahn looked at the ethical implications.
"Sen. Bernie Sanders keeps repeating that “all Americans have a right to health care” — nice applause line, but what does it mean? There is no such right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Health care is not a free good — someone has to pay for it. Ask yourself — who should pay for your health care?
"…Do you have the obligation to pay for someone else’s health care? If so, how much and why? …The 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “involuntary servitude” and slavery. At what point does a tax on someone’s labor — where the proceeds of that tax are largely used to provide income or services to others — constitute “involuntary servitude”? …Those who think they have the right to the labor of those they revile, i.e., the “rich,” have the same mentality of the slaveholder who also thought he had the right to others’ labor."
Ultimately, this is about a conflict between the classical liberal vision of “negative liberty” and the welfare state vision of “positive liberty.”
Here’s how I explained the difference a few years ago.
"Libertarians, along with many conservatives, believe in the right to be left alone and to not be molested by government. This is sometimes referred to in the literature as “negative liberty,” which is just another way of saying “the absence of coercive constraint on the individual.” Statists, by contrast, believe in “positive liberty.” This means that you have a “right” to things that the government will give you…
"Which means, of course, that the government has an obligation to take things from somebody else. How else, after all, will the government satisfy your supposed right to a job, education, healthcare, housing, etc."
I also should have pointed out that negative liberty doesn’t impose obligations on other people. My freedom of speech doesn’t conflict with your freedom of speech. My freedom or religion doesn’t conflict with your freedom of religion. My freedom to earn and produce doesn’t conflict with your freedom to earn and produce.
But that’s not true with so-called positive liberty. If I have a “right” to health care, that means the government will use coercion. Either indirectly by using the tax code to take money from other people, or directly as explained by Senator Rand Paul.
P.S. Before Bernie, there was FDR, who was also misguided or malicious about the supposed right to other people’s money.
Daniel J. Mitchell, a long standing contributor to The Commentator, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. His articles are cross-posted on his blog by agreement
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