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A Remedial Lesson on Rights
Never trust a politician with your liberty
Most people do not base their theory of rights on a coherent, consistent set of principles, but rather on what they support politically. For example, many people on the political left support the decision in Roe v. Wade which found that a right to privacy included a right to medical privacy over a woman’s decision to have an abortion, and yet many on the left do not currently believe that you have a right to medical privacy over your decision as to whether or not to get vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. This is obviously not a consistent application of a theory of rights in regard to medical privacy.
My theory of rights is derived from Murray N. Rothbard’s libertarian theory of rights, which essentially postulates that all human rights are derived from private property rights which begins with each human’s own property right in their own body. For example, it would not be correct to say that anyone has a right to free speech per se. In my own home I have the right to say whatever I like without violence being done against me, i.e. having physical violence committed against me or being forcibly removed from my home for what I said. On the other hand, I could not go into someone else’s home and refuse to leave on the grounds that I have a right to freedom of speech if I said something that they objected to and asked me to leave as a result. That would be an example of me violating their property rights.
One example that people use to make the argument that rights are not absolute is that you do not have the right to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater if there is no fire, because this could cause a panic. The argument is correct, but the reasoning is not. The reason you cannot fraudulently yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, or any other establishment, is not because of the potential for panic, but rather because you are violating property rights if you do so. You are violating the property rights of the owner of the establishment and the patrons who paid the owner for the use of their establishment.
The reason I bring this up is because California State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi does not seem to have a decent grasp as to what constitutes a right and what doesn’t. He recently tweeted:
His point that air travel is not a right is correct, in so far as it goes, but it is certainly not a privilege to be granted or taken away by any level of government. The reason that air travel is not a right per se is because that would imply that anyone would have the right to fly for free, but the problem is that airplanes are, or at least ought to be, privately owned. So we cannot have a right to use other people’s property, but we do have a right to voluntarily contract with others for the use of their property. In other words, we have the right to contract with airlines for the use of their airplanes if they are also willing to contract with us.
The argument in response to this might be that while airplanes are (largely or at least somewhat) privately owned, airports are not. This is true, but since they are not privately owned they are financed by taxpayer money and therefore the government who “owns” any particular airport should not have the power to revoke the “privilege” of any taxpayer to use an airport that they paid for via taxation. Taking someone’s money to build and maintain an airport and then refusing them access to that airport, while continuing to take their money, would be expropriation beyond the pale. Muratsuchi is presumably not advocating that anyone he would have barred from air travel also have their tax bill lessened and given a refund for taxes previously paid, but he can correct me if I’m wrong on that point.
It’s a safe bet that anytime a politician opines on rights they’re seeking to restrict them in some manner, and this example demonstrates that would-be-tyrants can be found at any level of government. Politicians are not interested in your rights, only in increasing their own power and influence.