Rights, Wants, Needs, Take Your Pick

We are in a hurry to advance social causes. We can now get 3 square meals a day and have a roof over our heads, it is high time for us as a country to [take your pick] end poverty, provide everyone with clean water, provide everyone with access to great medical care, etc. Those are all grand and moral aims. The rub is in how we achieve them. The method we choose to get to those fine goals makes all the difference for some methods will be more effective than others, some may actually work against our goals. Part of the debate about how to go about achieving these goals often included talk of “rights” with some loudly proclaiming that, say “everyone has a right to clean water” or “everyone has a right to medical care”. The cry to provide for the rights of those oppressed or left out by the current system is loud and frequent. But are those actually “rights” or are they “wants”? Is it possible for us to have a lofty aim, but not equate the aim with a right? Is it possible that some lofty aims are explicitly NOT rights? Is it possible that the mass enumeration of “rights” has muddied the water for rationally discussing the best means for achieving lofty ends? To this last question, I answer “Yes”. Ben O’Neil wrote a very insightful posting on rights (also to be had as a podcast) for the Ludwig von Mises Institute.


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