Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) threw out a little idea during a conversation about the economy and unemployment in the House of Representatives the other day. He said that since individual freedom depends on economic security, every American should be guaranteed the right to a decent home, health care, and an education.
He borrowed these ideas from President Franklin Roosevelt, who outlined them in a speech to Congress back in 1944. Roosevelt said that “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
In light of this “clear realization,” Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights,” in which he actually went quite a bit further than Representative Jackson did. Roosevelt also envisioned rights to “a useful and renumerative job,” enough income to provide “adequate food, clothing, and recreation,” freedom from “unfair competition and domination by monopolies” for business, and the right to “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.” Additionally, in a gesture somewhat less relevant to Americans of the 21st century, he thought farmers should have the guaranteed right to sell their produce at a profit.
Jackson’s view of these “positive rights” is much more limited – all you’ll get out of him is taxpayer-financed housing and health care. You’ve already got free education, provided at a price determined by the miracle of collective bargaining by public unions, unless he thinks college should be “free” as well. Unlike Roosevelt in his 1944 speech, who said these “rights” had already been “accepted” by everyone, Jackson wants to write them into the Constitution with an amendment.
Hoo boy. I can’t wait to see what those “Constitution houses” would look like, especially after a few years of residence by the happy recipients of a “free” home.
This business of “positive rights” is one of the most poisonous ideas to crawl from the human imagination. It’s not a twentieth-century innovation – Rousseau discussed the concept over 250 years ago. Hungry people are not “free” because they will do anything to get food, which greatly restricts their possible courses of action. They must subordinate their authentic ideas and desires to work for their bread and board. They must submit to whoever signs their paychecks. Only when a wise and benevolent State erases hunger and poverty, by giving everyone the essentials they are entitled to, will true freedom be achieved.
Of course, to provide that kind of freedom, you’re going to need plenty of slaves.
Who will build the Constitutionally-mandated houses? Who will maintain them? Where do the clients of Representative Jackson’s munificence go, when the typical neglect of public resources turns their “free” house into a festering rat hole? Who provides the “free” health care? We’ve already seen how expensive “free” education is – the cost is crushing state governments from coast to coast. Who pays for the goodies our unionized public health care providers will demand?
The only thing a government can “redistribute” is poverty. It has no resources except compulsive force. In order to fulfill those “positive rights,” it must destroy one of the most vital resources of the private sector: ambition.
There are people who would be willing to spend their lives reclining in the tattered hammock Representative Jackson thinks the Constitution should provide… but many others would not. They would not be happy living in their squalid government house. They would not accept the “renumerative job” provided by the State, instead wanting to work harder, take risks, and cultivate their talents to earn more.
We already have a sizable population that is unsatisfied with the poor product of the teachers unions, and spends a considerable amount of extra money to secure a superior private education for their children. Some even make the sacrifices necessary to school them at home. Imagine that kind of ambition surging against the bonds of jobs, housing, and health care allocated by politicians.
In order to make everyone content with the life provided by government, it would be necessary to strap some of us into our hammocks. Our ambitions must be ruined in order to make us satisfied with the benevolence of a maternal State… and that process inevitably makes the State less benevolent. You can see this message written in blood across the history of the twentieth century. Representative Jackson should try reading some of that history, instead of just cherry-picking the speeches where a politician revered by the Left said the government should guarantee everything, and drooling over the kind of power such a mandate would produce.