An Economic Bill of Rights?
Are people inherently born with the right to an important and well-paying job? How about a decent house? The author of a recent article in the St. Louis Beacon certainly thinks so. He advocates a larger government role in job creation and cites Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights,” or a similar economic bill of rights, as the prism through which the entire economy should be viewed.
FDR’s Second Bill of Rights includes:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
The framers of the Constitution saw the need for a Bill of Rights as a means of protecting the people from an overbearing and oppressive government. They drafted a bill of negative liberties, or protections that define what the government cannot do. They gave no guarantee of housing, food, or employment because they saw the dangers that the notion of positive rights pose as a potential threat to liberty — the idea that, just by being born, people are entitled for others to provide them a comfortable life.
Because the government does not produce any wealth, even the most basic obligation to one individual must be paid for by taking from another. In order to guarantee one person a profitable job, a decent home, or adequate food, wealth must first be taken from those who have rightfully earned it, infringing on their liberty to do as they wish with their own money.
Unfortunate individuals who receive assistance do not receive those benefits because it is their inalienable right, but because it is irresponsible to let them starve or freeze in the streets. No one is entitled to anything that is not their own, no matter how basic of a necessity; however, it is the responsible duty of able individuals to help those in need through their charitable impulses.
Although the end result may be the same, in terms of the needy receiving necessary aid, there is a stark distinction between an unalienable right to something and the responsibility of an able man to care for their fellow man. The difference can be summed up in one word: liberty. The liberty of every individual to do as he pleases with his own money and resources. Although it is repulsive — and, at the very least, irresponsible — for an able individual to let those less fortunate starve, I have no right to infringe upon their liberty to do as they please with their own money.
This is by no means an argument against all government assistance. Obviously, the government cannot allow its citizens to starve or children to live on the streets, homeless. Rather, my objection is with the larger issue of entitlements justified through a notion of positive rights. When fully implemented positive rights lead to socialism, a concept that has been tried and found ineffective at growing economies, raising standards of living, or even helping the very poor. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”