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Friday, August 10, 2018

Dear Democratic Socialists: Entitlements Are Not Rights

The only way anyone can have a right to something that has to be produced, is to force someone else to produce it for him.

Image credit: Flickr-Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

In her official platform, socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports tuition-free public college and trade school for all, housing as a human right for all, improved and expanded Medicare for all (including full vision, dental, and mental health care), and a federal jobs guarantee for all that includes a $15 minimum wage, full health care, and child and sick leave for all. But how will we possibly pay for all of this free stuff, and who will pay?

In a chapter titled “Affordability” in The Thomas Sowell Reader, economist Thomas Sowell addresses the key issues of affordability, basic necessities, rights, entitlements, and trade-offs to counteract Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s misguided views of the economy:

People who complain about the “prohibitive” cost of housing, or of going to college, for example, fail to understand that the whole point of costs is to be prohibitive. Why do we go through the whole rigmarole of passing around dollar bills and writing each other checks, except to force everyone to economize on the country’s inherently limited resources.

What about “basic necessities”? Shouldn’t they be a “right”?

The idea certainly sounds nice. But the very fact that we can seriously entertain such a notion, as if we were God on the first day of creation, instead of mortals constrained by the universe we find in place, shows the utter unreality of failing to understand that we can only make choices among alternatives actually available.

For society as a whole, nothing comes as a “right” to which we are “entitled.” Even bare subsistence has to be produced—and produced at a cost of heavy toil for much of human history.

The only way anyone can have a right to something that has to be produced, is to force someone else to produce it for him. The more things are provided as rights, the less the recipients have to work and the more others have to carry their load.

That does not mean more goods are available than under ordinary market production, but less. For the government to make some things more affordable is to make other things less affordable—and to destroy people’s freedom and make their own trade-offs as they see fit, in the light of economic realities, rather than political visions. Trade-offs remain inescapable, whether they are made through a market or through politics.

Reprinted from The American Enterprise Institute

  • Mark J. Perry is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.