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Eminent Domain Stuff

New London Update (2/24/06)
Coverage of the Rally at New London's City Hall (w/ pics)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Positive vs. Negative Rights

Stephen Bainbridge has a great article over at Tech Central Station about positive vs. negative rights. This is one of those topics that I find intuitive, and I am very glad to see someone articulate the associated issues with such clarity. Here's the meat of the argument:

Contrary to Saletan's argument, positive rights cannot be achieved without limiting the liberty of individuals. During the Cold War, for example, totalitarian regimes justified their (egregiously bad) humans rights records by stressing how they achieved positive rights the West left to the vagaries of the market place. Yet, they did so through totalitarian regimes characterized by central planning that proscribed both freedom of contract and private property.

Modern defenders of positive rights, as the following discussion makes clear, claim that such rights can be achieved without a police state:

"Defenders of positive liberty say that there is no need for it to have such totalitarian undertones. ... For example, if the state asks the citizens what they want instead of making that decision for them, positive liberty can be guaranteed without any hint of totalitarianism."

Yet, notice that even here we see the potential for the tyranny of the majority. If the majority thinks all employees should be paid a living wage, the freedom of individual employees to take a lower wage and of individual employers to offer a lower wage is circumscribed. Again, we often see the same sort of disregard for private property and freedom of contract in nominal democracies as in totalitarian regimes. (For a recent and perhaps trivial example, see the kerfuffle in Santa Monica, California -- often known as the "People's Republic of Santa Monica" -- over hedge height restrictions.)


As societal decision making norms, private property and freedom of contract do more than just promote economic growth. These economic liberties have almost always gone hand in hand with other personal liberties. Private property and freedom of contract, moreover, have been a major factor in destroying arbitrary class distinctions by enhancing personal and social mobility. When we infringe on private property and freedom of contract in the name of creating positive rights, we thus infringe on the very engine of democracy. As Russell Kirk observed, "freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all." Ronald Reagan surely agreed. (emphasis added)

I agree entirely. This country was founded on some very basic principles. Chief among them was that so long as reasonable laws are written and obeyed, people should generally be left alone. The best thing any government can do for its people is to get the hell out of the way.

How do you think we've gotten to where we are today? With the exception of military advances (but not all military advances), the vast majority of stuff we enjoy in this country today is the direct result of an individual thinking: I can do this better than that guy over there...and then actually doing it. Anything that the government does to get in the way of that natural process is to the detriment of our country and society in general.


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