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Obama Gets Rights Wrong; Americans Need to Get Them Right

At a recent press conference, President Obama declared,

Quality care is not something that should be a privilege. It should be a right. In the greatest country on earth, we’ve got to make sure that every single person that needs health care can get it.

The proper purpose of government, on this view, is to provide citizens with the goods they need in order to live. On its face, this sounds good to some Americans. Who doesn’t want to be healthy? What sick or injured person wouldn’t want assurance that he will obtain treatment?

However, to declare that health care is a right is to say that one has a moral claim to it, that it is due him—which implies that others must be compelled to provide it. This is a formula not for a country based on the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—or, as Obama correctly calls America, “the greatest country on earth”—but for a nation of serfs, each bound to the others by their needs.

The promise of America is not a “right” to have one’s needs such as health care, education, jobs, and housing provided by the government. Everyone has these needs, and the fundamental way to satisfy them is to use one’s mind, to act in accordance with one’s rational judgment, and to produce and trade as necessary to acquire one’s needs. Compulsion throttles this process because it overrides the individual’s mind, forcing him to act contrary to his own evaluations and conclusions.

When the government attempts to provide citizens with goods and services that have to be produced, it does so by forcing some individuals to produce for the sake of others, thereby violating the rights of those who are forced.

A correct conception of rights pertains not to the receipt of products but to freedom of action. Genuine rights follow from the recognition that, in order to live and prosper, individuals must be free to think and act according to their own judgment. And, in accordance with this correct conception of rights, the only proper purpose of government is to safeguard such rights.

To correct Obama’s false claim: Quality care is something that must be produced; therefore it cannot be a right. In the greatest country on earth, we’ve got to make sure that every single person remains free to think, act, produce, and trade in accordance with his own judgment—including in the realm of health care.

We need a president who will say that. And, in order to elect such a president, Americans must embrace this truth themselves.

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