Sunday, August 09, 2009

Poverty and Rights

Ever go camping? Recall what it's like. The tent. Scraping together a fire and a latrine. No fridge. Now imagine the camping continuing for the next fifty years, or however long you lasted. That's poverty. That's dire straits.

Now imagine you have a car, refrigeration, heating and air conditioning, free education through twelfth grade, and adequate medical care, nutrition, and clothing. You have little else, but you have the opportunity to gain much more simply by graduating from high school, not getting pregnant, not staying intoxicated, getting a job, and doing your best at the job every day. That's not poverty. It's not dire straits.

Outside of contracts, there is only one positive right: the right of innocents in your community who are in dire straits to be assisted by you. When someone in your community bleeds, you provide first aid. When a child in your community falls into poverty, you help him out. This assistance may require some transfer of wealth. The principle of charity is at work here. Whether we should use government to provide the assistance and to transfer the wealth is a question I leave open at the moment.

Americans are for the most part in fulfillment of its duties regarding positive rights. They provide the assistance necessary for Americans to avoid poverty.

More important are negative rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The American governmental system is in serious violation of Americans' negative rights. It is not a limited government. It crosses the line.