Who Said That You Have a “Right” to Education and Healthcare?

by Burt on July 30, 2012

Good question, because those two so-called rights are a big part of why the U.S. is adding $4,000,000,000 per day to the national debt. Can we pinpoint a time, or an event, which led Americans to accept the idea that people have a right to healthcare and education?

“Yes, We Can!” It dates back to President Franklin Roosevelt and his State of the Union speech in 1944 promoting an “economic bill of rights,” which I discuss in FDR Goes to War. This new “economic bill of rights,” FDR said, “like the sacred Bill of Rights of our Constitution itself—must be applied to all citizens.” He added, “A new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.” Among others, these new rights included:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of our nation.

The right of every family to a decent home.

The right to a good education.

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

Roosevelt concluded: “All of these rights spell security. And after the war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.”

Where do Roosevelt’s new rights come from? They are not natural rights, or God-given rights, because nature, or God, does not endow man with “a good education,” “adequate medical care,” or a “decent home.” Only if government is the source of rights do Roosevelt’s rights have meaning. If an American has a right to “a useful and remunerative job,” then government has the obligation to tax those who have jobs, and redistribute that wealth to those who don’t. If an American has a right to a “decent home,” whatever size and furnishings that might include, then other Americans have the responsibility to pay for that decent home. Thus, Roosevelt’s new economic bill of rights was revolutionary. To provide these new rights, government would have to tax and redistribute wealth on a massive scale.

The original Bill of Rights, by contrast, was very different. It listed freedoms from government interference, not the freedom to invoke government to fulfill wants. The Founders said that free speech was a natural or human right that exists freely for all people to enjoy. It didn’t pose an obligation of anyone to pay for the speech, or even to listen to it.

After FDR’s death, President Truman supported the economic bill of rights and tried to persuade Congress to pass new laws subsidizing housing, college education, and medical care. He failed in this, but over the next two generations the economic bill of rights has been at the center of American politics. Americans today, however, need to remember the Founders and tell our politicians: “We only support natural rights, and not so-called rights that allow politicians to tax one group of Americans to give cash to other Americans in return for their votes.”

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