In 1776, the authors of the Declaration of Independence lifted their pens to write a famous and thought-provoking line:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Then, less than fifteen years later, the Constitution of the United States was amended with ten articles that spelled out many other rights, including the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms.
For decades, some have suggested that healthcare is a right that Americans should honor. They suggest that the government should provide universal healthcare. This view is known as socialized medicine – the idea of government regulation to ensure that everyone has access to low-cost healthcare. In order to think through this concept, I want to ask two simple questions. First, is healthcare a human right? Second, is it the role of the government to provide healthcare?
Is Healthcare a Human Right?
Some people suggest that healthcare is a universal human right. If the Constitution protects human rights (they argue), then it should protect this human right as well.
How do we determine what is a human right? Some legal scholars have pointed out the difference between negative rights and positive rights. Negative rights imply a hands-off approach. For example, the right to freedom of speech requires a hands-off approach. The government owes me nothing except to not interfere in this aspect of my life. Similarly, the right to keep and bear arms is a hands-off right. The government and society owe me nothing except to not interfere.
Positive rights are so-called “rights” that imply an obligation on someone else. The “right” to healthcare means that someone is obligated to give me healthcare. The problem with positive “rights” is that they imply an obligation from someone else. Who makes this obligation?
When rights are broken, crimes are committed. If you take away my freedom of religion, you are guilty. You are interfering in something with which you have no right to interfere. But if healthcare is a right, and you live in a remote mountain village without a doctor, who is guilty? Did someone commit a crime? Obviously not. When a true “right” is removed, someone is guilty. No one is guilty when healthcare is removed.
Is It the Role of the Government to Provide Healthcare?
If the government should provide healthcare, it needs to do it efficiently – by applying evidence, cutting costs, and doing the work of a manager.
If the government is now in the role of the manager, it now needs to dictate what the hospital can charge for or not charge for. It needs to dictate what is acceptable treatment and what is not (since we would not want the government to waste our tax dollars on unacceptable treatment). It needs to dictate how we live our lives, so that we don’t hurt ourselves. (We wouldn’t want it to waste tax dollars on needless healthcare, would we?)
This means that the government needs to make sure that we wear our seatbelts. The government can tell us which soda is too big. The government needs to be concerned about obesity. It needs to research mental health problems, since it funds their treatment. On and on the list goes, as the government intrudes into more and more aspects of life.
I think that you get the point – if the government should provide free healthcare, it has an open invitation to regulate every aspect of our lives. You might think that the government should use its power for good. While I appreciate your benevolence to the human race, I would suggest that the founders of our nation never thought that way.
The founders of our nation came up with a vast list of grievances against the King of England. While they had many dissatisfactions, they never complained that he was too stingy with their healthcare. Rather, they resented that he tried to take too much power. Their view of government was that it was a hands-off government (a government of negative rights), a power to ensure peace and tranquility, so that people like you and me could work through our problems and come up with innovative solutions. The purpose of the government is not to regulate our lives; it is to provide stability for society.
A Simple Solution
Let me suggest a very plain, old-fashioned, simple idea: it is not the government’s role to provide healthcare.
Suppose that someone is ill – they have a terrible disease! Shouldn’t the government help them?
Let me answer that question with some other questions. Is the used-car salesman worried about this problem? Is it the concern of the telecommunications company? Is it the concern of the road construction company? No, they obviously don’t have any interest in the matter.
It is unfortunate that there is illness, and people need healthcare. That is the domain of doctors, hospitals, and philanthropists; however, it is not the domain of the government.
Just like the used-car salesman, the government has a very specific reason that it exists. The role of the government is simple: to punish evil and praise good. It does this by defining and enforcing laws. It provides negative rights for society, and leaves us in the enviable position of freedom to create innovative solutions to our own problems.