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Thursday, October 1, 1987

More Collectivist Cliches

In her recent trip to the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to defend Soviet human rights policy. Gorbachev replied that when Western leaders were ready to discuss poverty, unemployment, and homelessness in their countries, he would address human rights in the Soviet Union. This is a typical Soviet response, designed to confuse the issue and shift the blame once again to the capitalists.

It is unfortunate that the Soviets take this approach, but it is even more unfortunate that the world press will let statements like this go unchallenged. In the newspaper accounts, not a single journalist felt obligated to point out that while Thatcher was addressing the question of human rights, Gorbachev’s response dealt with human privileges. Just as it is intuitively and logically obvious that all men have the right to be free, so it is also obvious that no man has the inherent right to be given a home.

It is with exactly these types of issue-confusing answers that the collectivists continue to delude the world press. By reporting the above conversation as if both arguments had equal merit, the press imply that the problems of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness in the free world are the moral equivalent of government oppression in the communist world. Let us address each of Gorbachev’s issues individually and explain why they are not the result of “human rights violations.”

First, consider homelessness. Obviously, every man has the right to buy a home, assuming he can find someone willing to sell him one at a mutually agreeable price. It is unfortunate that some individuals neither have the funds to purchase a home, nor the ability to raise these funds. The collectivist, however, would have us believe that we are somehow morally obligated to provide these individuals with homes.

Naturally, the homeless are free to seek ways of earning income, and to use this income as they see fit. By the same token, I should be free to earn my income, and also should be free to do with it as I see fit; and this includes no obligation to provide homes for strangers. When the collectivists grant the so-called “right” to a home, they remove my right to do as I please with my property—and this is a true, basic right. Robbery is robbery, whether the homeless steal directly from me to provide themselves with a home, or whether government steals it first and then hands it to them.


Just as with homes, the collectivists imply that we are somehow morally obligated to provide a job for every person, regardless of this person’s abilities, skills, or productivity.

To say that every person has the right to a job is to imply that someone else has an obligation to give him one. Here in the free world, we recognize a man’s right to seek employment, so long as there is someone willing to employ him. But to insist that someone (or everyone) provide him with a job, denies the right of the employer to do as he chooses with his own property. Once again, by establishing a false “right,” the collectivists actually have taken away a basic human right: the right to use your earnings as you choose.

What the collectivists fail to mention is that in a free, capitalist society, the natural unemployment rate is very low. The most significant cause of high unemployment is government intervention in the economy, particularly minimum wage laws. By establishing a minimum wage, the government effectively declares that all persons whose productive value to an employer is less than this wage shall remain unemployed. The implication is that it is morally superior to live on welfare than to become self-sufficient by earning a “low” wage.


Homelessness and unemployment often are accompanied by poverty; indeed, it seems the three are nearly inseparable. Poverty, like homelessness, is the direct result of an individual’s lack of funds. Once again, the collectivists imply that we should feel morally obligated to give our earnings to those who haven’t earned anything of their own. Just as in the previous examples, to force someone to give up his earned income or goods to support strangers robs him of his natural right to do as he wishes with his property. It becomes apparent that the collectivists’ accusations are all built around this common fallacy: that some men have a right to the earnings of others. In the free world we recognize this as false.

Now, before anyone cries out that this is a cruel and unjust state of affairs, let me point out that voluntary charity is perfectly compatible with freedom. In a pure, capitalist society, everyone has the right to do with his income as he pleases; and if it pleases him to give it to the poor, then no will stop him. If it pleases him to give jobs to the incompetent or unskilled, then he is free to do so until his funds run out. If he wishes to provide homes for the homeless, he not only will find himself unobstructed, he probably will be congratulated as well,

The one thing that no man or government has the right to do is to take the property of others by force. This is what our own government does when it removes some of our income (by force) and gives it to others. This is the principle on which the whole collectivist economy is built: the right of some to rob from others in the name of “justice.”

As long as the press continues to report both factual and fallacious arguments as if they held equal merit; as long as Soviet clichés go unchallenged; then the collectivists will continue to pull the wool over the eyes of millions. Since publications devoted to exposing these clichés are few and far between, it is up to us, the defenders of freedom, to spread the word.

  • Philip Steele is a California writer and teacher whose work has appeared in Reason, The Freeman, The Miami Herald, The Orange County Register, and many other international newspapers and magazines.