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Tweet [1]

Comes this e-mail a few minutes ago, in response to this post [2], from “Anonymous”; I edit and correct his or her spelling errors:

Where is the strawman that holds health care to be the right that you [that is, that I, Don Boudreaux] claim? Doctors will not be forced by the point of a gun to serve patients. That work will have as much mutual advantage as all other exchanges.

Anonymous misses the general point of my post.  He or she is misled by my particular hypothetical (of a very small village with only one physician).  So let me spell it out more clearly.

First, for only one example (out of a huge pool) of someone who asserts that health-care provision is “right,” see this post from exactly seven years ago [3].

Second, Anonymous is correct that in reality physicians almost surely will not be forced at gunpoint to supply health-care services to patients who receive those services as a matter of “right.”  Instead, government will sedate our moral intuition [4] by arranging for physicians (at least on most occasions) to be paid fees that they find acceptable.  But from whom will the funds come to pay the physicians (and other health-care providers) these fees – fees that, by assumption, are necessary to supplement whatever fees patients are willing to pay out-of-pocket to health-care providers?  Someone – or, rather, a multitude of someones – will be forced on an on-going basis to contribute some of the fruits of their labors to the pool of funds that government will use to pay physicians and other health-care suppliers to supply health-care services to citizens as a matter of ‘right.’

The general point is that a positive right to health care – no matter how splendid you hold that right to be and no matter how lovely is the provision of that right – requires that its recipients receive at others’ expense the services to which these recipients have a ‘right.’  Someone (or a multitude of someones) must supply those services whose recipients self-righteously insist be supplied as a matter of ‘right.’  This fact is undeniable and inescapable.

Note that – although undeniable and inescapable – this fact does not by itself establish a case against treating health care as a right.  But recognizing this reality does reveal certain potentially ugly aspects of all this ‘rights’ talk about health care – namely, to exercise your ‘right’ to health care requires that someone else be forced to serve you.  Someone else must not merely refrain from interfering in your life and business.  Instead, that someone else must be obliged to exert positive effort to help you – and not because you make it worthwhile for that person to exert that effort on your behalf, but because the government will ultimately execute him or her if he or she refuses to supply you with that to which you have a positive ‘right.’

I’m aware that such positive “rights” strike many people as being evidence of a highly progressive and especially civilized and caring society.  They strike me as being quite the opposite: evidence not only of economic ignorance, but of collectivized and mutually destructive predation camouflaged with a pretty mask and falsely scented with absurd oratory.