I was watching a television commercial the other day and the spokesperson said something to the effect that customers have a “right” to good service. The increased use of the word “right” disturbs me a great deal. In particular, politicians are always identifying new human “rights”; not life, liberty, and property, as indicated in the fifth amendment of the US Constitution, but things like health care, food, home ownership, utilities (heat and electricity), cheap gasoline, etc.
There is little contention with the constitutional rights of life, liberty, and property, as these are rights to an “action”. Action rights like freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech are easy to identify and impose few societal costs, save it be a police force to ensure that some people don’t take the life, liberty, and property of other people; or to deny people from practicing their religion, or peaceable assembly, etc. However, if rights involve the granting of an “object”, as is often done today, there is a huge problem. Someone else must provide that “object”, that good or service. This implies that some citizens are forced by the government to pay taxes so that other citizens might receive heating assistance, food stamps, or whatever else the politicians deem to be the new “human right” du jour.
Government provision of “objects” as human rights leads to human discontentment and creates work disincentives for both the provider and the recipient of the object. The producer, the one who is taxed, is upset that the fruits of his labor are being forced from him and given to another who does not deserve it. The taxing of the producer also gives him less incentive to work harder and create more output; of what good is it to toil, only to have much of it taken away by the government. Likewise the recipient of the object “right” is less appreciative of this object than he would be if he had earned it. In fact, over time the recipient sees the object as an entitlement, with no need to express thanks or gratitude. The recipient is also less likely to work harder in the future, knowing that he is receiving value without toil. With both the recipient and the producer having less incentive, the economy grows slower than it would otherwise.
The teachers who have been demonstrating for over three weeks in Madison, Wisconsin surely know the source of their power and entitlement. They go to the source of that power, the Capitol of the State of Wisconsin, where the laws are made that benefit them at the expense of others. Any time an entitlement is threatened to be taken away, those who truly benefit from the “rights” bestowed upon them will show up in large numbers to complain. It is not the common tax payer, the parent concerned with poor public schools, or the business owner who have gone to Madison; it is those who depend on Government power and privilege that have made that journey. So it is for all who feed at the government trough, either as union members or those that have received goods or services as a result of “object” rights. For too many people and for too long, we’ve created unaffordable entitlements in the United States of America. It is a time of reckoning and none too soon.