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Posts Tagged ‘Positive Rights’

When I went to Chile last December to write about that nation’s election (see here, here, here, here, and here), I concluded my coverage with a column about the risks of changing that nation’s constitution.

This video from Reason is a fresh look at that topic.

The people of Chile make their choice today.

What’s at stake is whether they want to preserve a constitution based on liberties or replace it with one based on entitlements (the long-standing debate between “negative rights” and “positive rights”).

This should be an easy choice. The current constitution limits the power of government and has helped Chile become the Latin Tiger. Incomes have jumped and poverty has plummeted.

Let’s look at some analysis and commentary.

We’ll start with a story for the New York Times by Jack Nicas, which explains what is happening today.

Voters in Chile on Sunday could transform what has long been one of Latin America’s most conservative countries into one of the world’s most left-leaning societies. In a single ballot, Chileans will decide whether they want…universal public health care; gender parity in government; empowered labor unions; …rights for animals and nature; and constitutional rights to housing, education, retirement benefits, internet access, clean air, water, sanitation and care “from birth to death.” …If voters approve the text, Chile…would suddenly have more rights enshrined in its constitution than any other nation. …The 170-page text would make the Chilean state, which has long had a limited role in its citizens’ lives, the guarantor of more than 100 rights… In addition to housing, health care and education, the new constitution would enshrine the right to…free time, physical activity, sex education, cybersecurity, the protection of personal data and “free and full legal advice” for anyone “who cannot obtain it.” …implementing the new constitution would cost the government 9 percent to 14 percent of Chile’s gross domestic product.

Now that we have the basics, let’s look at whether the new constitution is a good idea.

Writing for National Review, Daniel Di Martino condemns the document.

Chileans…will vote on whether to adopt or reject a proposed constitution written by a socialist-controlled assembly. The document, consisting of 388 articles, would create an unequal justice system and grant more rights for those who claim indigenous ancestry. It would effectively end private health care and education, and it would allow the congress to confiscate Chileans’ pension savings. …The proposed Chilean constitution reads like a longer, more woke, and even more socialist version of Venezuela’s constitution. …It’s a socialist policy wish list. …The proposed constitution would abolish the free-market protections that enabled Chile to become so prosperous. …The proposal prohibits any for-profit educational enterprise at every level, with the result that many private schools would close. …The proposed new law of the land would authorize the government to confiscate accumulated private retirement savings… Chileans have a choice to make in September. Will they vote no on the proposed constitution and keep Chile free and prosperous, or will they vote yes and follow the socialist path of Venezuela?

In case you think Di Martino is exaggerating, a Washington Post report by John Bartlett and Samantha Schmidt reaches the same conclusion, albeit without the criticism.

Chile’s new constitution, a 388-article charter that envisions a progressive, feminist future for the South American nation. …The constitution is one of the first in the world to be drafted in the context of a climate crisis, and to be written by a convention with gender parity. …It’s a woke constitution propelled by left-leaning millennials and built for a modern nation led by one. …One section…would make the government responsible for preventing, adapting to, and mitigating the effects of climate change. …The charter would make the government responsible for providing free higher education, health care and many other services. It would guarantee a right to housing, and to leisure time. It would require that at least half of all members of government and congress, and employees of public and public-private companies, be women.

As you might expect, Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal is not a fan.

The document removes the certainty of personal choice—including in healthcare, pensions and education—weakens property rights, increases the role of the state in the economy and moves the country away from representative democracy and toward mob rule. …the high-performing Chilean economy of the past three decades could be headed to a level of mediocrity similar to that of its neighbors Bolivia and Argentina. …The U.S. Constitution has been successful, in large part, because it constrains government power. Conversely, turning a constitution into a laundry list that mistakes entitlements for rights, and promises to guarantee those rights by empowering the state, is a ticket to poverty and tyranny.

Daniel Raisbeck of Reason wrote about the superiority of the current system last month.

Chile’s current, pro-free market constitution…has served the country well, bringing staggering economic success by Latin American and even global standards. But in an October 2020 referendum, 78 percent of Chilean voters chose to ditch the constitution… It seemingly mattered little to voters that, for years, Chile has had one of the region’s highest per capita GDP. …Poverty…decreased from 45 percent in 1982 to a mere 8 percent in 2014… Not bad for a nation whose economy between 1950 and 1970 was, according to a Library of Congress country study, “the poorest among Latin America’s large and medium-sized countries.”

It’s no surprise that conservatives and libertarians oppose the draft constitution.

But the document is so radical and impractical that the left-leaning Economist opined against the pact.

The document is far less…growth-friendly than the current constitution. It gives trade unions the sole right to represent workers, guarantees them a say in corporate decision-making and allows them to strike for any reason… It says that everyone has the “right to work” and that “all forms of job insecurity are prohibited”. That could make it rather hard to fire anyone. Landowners, such as farmers, could potentially lose the property rights to water on their land. Compensation for expropriated land would not be at a market price but at whatever Congress deems a “just” one. The draft creates a portfolio of socioeconomic rights that could blow up the budget. It requires the establishment of several new bodies, such as an integrated national health system, and cradle-to-grave care, without giving much thought to how they would be funded. The state would oversee the provision of housing, to which it says every person has a right. …Rather than scrapping the old constitution, Chileans should scrap the new one.

And even the Washington Post editorialized against it.

Opponents of the new constitution…worry that uncertainty will hinder investment while a new congress tries to translate new constitutional provisions on mining and other natural resources into legislation. Then there is the complexity of a document that consists of 54,000 words, 388 articles and 178 pages — including a provision on the state’s duty to “promote the culinary and gastronomic heritage of the country.”

But the hard left is mobilized and supportive.

Indeed, David Adler wrote in the U.K.-based Guardian that Chile’s leftist constitution should be a model for all nations.

…a visionary document that would not only update, expand and advance Chileans’ basic rights – to health, housing, abortion, decent work and a habitable planet – but also set a new standard for democratic renewal in the 21st century. …a document that responds directly to the escalating crises of inequality, insecurity and a changing climate. The constitution establishes new universal public services for health, education, and clean water. It endows nature with rights…it finally turns Chile into a full democracy, with gender parity in public institutions, self-determination for Indigenous peoples, collective bargaining for all workers… Chile has shown the way to a new constitutional order – rich with rights.

At the risk of understatement, Mr. Adler is nuts.

You can’t create rights to get goodies unless you also create a “right” to take from others. And that’s a distasteful recipe for a system that punishes success and rewards indolence.

What makes Adler’s analysis so foolish is that there’s compelling research showing that economic liberty produces the outcomes associated with so-called positive rights.

Today’s vote will show whether Chileans understand that free markets lead to more upward mobility and higher living standards. If they want less poverty, they should want more capitalism, not a dirigiste constitution.

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Back in 2017, I compared the welfare state vision of “positive rights” with the classical liberal vision of “negative rights.”

To elaborate, here’s a video from Learn Liberty that compares these visions.

For what it’s worth, I don’t like the terms “positive rights” and “negative rights” for the simple reason that an uninformed person understandably might conclude that “positive” is good and “negative” is bad.

Needless to say, I don’t think it’s good for people to think they have a right to other people’s money.

That’s why I prefer Professor Skoble’s use of the terms “liberties” and “entitlements,” which we also find in this slide from Professor Imran Ahmad Sajid of the University of Pakistan.

As you might expect, there are plenty of politicians who try to buy votes with an agenda of “positive rights.” Bernie Sanders, for instance, constantly argued that people have a “right” to all sorts of goodies.

But he wasn’t the first to make the case for unlimited entitlements.

Franklin Roosevelt was one of America’s worst presidents, in part because his policies deepened and lengthened the Great Depression. But also because he pushed the idea that people have the right to get all sorts of taxpayer-financed handouts.

Let’s see what some other people have to say about this topic.

In his National Review column, Kevin Williamson looks at the logical fallacy of positive rights.

Positive rights run into some pretty obvious problems if you think about them for a minute, which is why so much of our political discourse is dedicated to moralistic thundering specifically designed to prevent such thinking. Consider, in the American context, the notion that health care is a right. Declaring a right in a scarce good such as health care is intellectually void, because moral declarations about rights do not change material facts. If you have five children and three apples and then declare that every child has a right to an apple of his own, then you have five children and three apples and some meaningless posturing — i.e., nothing in reality has changed, and you have added only rhetoric instead of adding apples. In the United States, we have so many doctors, so many hospitals and clinics, so many MRI machines, etc. This imposes real constraints on the provision of health care. If my doctor works 40 hours a week, does my right to health care mean that a judge can order him to work extra hours to accommodate my rights? For free? If I have a right to health care, how can a clinic or a physician charge me for exercising my right? If doctors and hospitals have rights of their own — for example, property rights in their labor and facilities — how is it that my rights supersede those rights?

And here’s what he says about “negative rights.”

A negative right is a right to not be constrained. The right to free speech, for example, implies only non-interference. The right to freedom of the press doesn’t mean the government has to give you a press. The good of negative freedom is, in the economic sense, not rivalrous — your exercise of free speech doesn’t leave less freedom of speech out there for others to enjoy

And Larry Reed opines on the issue for the Foundation for Economic Education.

America is a nation founded on the notion of rights. …Despite the centrality of rights in American history, it’s readily apparent today that Americans are of widely different views on what a right is, how many we have, where rights come from, or why we have any in the first place. …if you need something, does that mean you have a right to it? If I require a kidney, do I have a right to one of yours? Is a right something that can or should be granted or denied by majority vote?

He helpfully provides a list of negative rights (a.k.a., liberties).

And he argues that positive rights (a.k.a., entitlements) are not real rights.

The bottom line, he explains, is that so-called positive rights impose obligations on other people.

Indeed, they can only be provided by coercion.

The first list comprises what are often called both “natural rights” and “negative rights”—natural because they derive from our essential nature as unique, sensate individuals and negative because they don’t impose obligations on others beyond a commitment to not violate them. The items in the second are called “positive rights” because others must give them to you or be coerced into doing so if they decline. …while I believe neither you nor I have a right to any of those disparate things in the second list, I hasten to add that we certainly have the right to seek them, to create them, to receive them as gifts from willing benefactors, or to trade for them. We just don’t have a right to compel anyone to give them to us or pay for them.

There’s not much I can add to this issue, given the wisdom contained in the video and in the articles by Williamson and Reed.

So I’ll close with the should-be-obvious point that a system based on entitlements only works if there are enough people pulling the wagon to support all the people riding in the wagon.

But that kind of society contains the seeds of its own downfall (think Greece or Venezuela) because it subsidizes dependency and penalizes production.

Which means, as Margaret Thatcher warned us, that positive rights can’t be provided when politicians run out of other people’s money.

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