Thursday, January 24, 2008

Positive Rights

Ken Salazar (D-CO):

"We must finally embrace as a society, the concept that health care, for every Americans, is a fundamental right."

I have always found this formulation a bit troubling. I agree that every American should have a bunch of different goods- food, shelter, and yes, health care. By and large this is true, including with respect to health care. Now it is true that millions are uninsured but they do receive charity care and are not truly denied health care (though, their care is clearly inferior to those who are insured). But more broadly as we move towards embracing positive rights we split society into two groups: those who have the obligation to provide for others and those who are provided for. Such a notion seems to undermine the universality of rights as we commonly perceive them. I do in fact believe that we have an obligation to do a better job of providing certain goods to those who cannot provide for themselves, but I call this charity or public assistance depending on who is doing the provision.

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