Is Police Protection a Right?

I was having a discussion on line the other day about whether healthcare is a right. Amid the usual progressive arguments of “you want people to die,” and “you’re a sack of sh#t,” someone asked a good question. What, they said, about police, fire and military protection?

I had made the point that no one has a right to anything that imposes an obligation on someone else or, said another way, the only true rights are negative rights.

They pointed out that protecting the public does, in fact, place an obligation on someone else, namely the police officer, fire fighter or soldier. While that is true, and I believe those are legitimate functions of government, it does not then follow that individuals have a right to the services provided by those functions.

A right is something every single person possesses that the government cannot take away. Said another way, they are universal and unalienable. Therefore, government must ensure that all people’s rights are protected all the time. You don’t have a right to freedom of the press only when resources are available, you have it always. So if police protection is a right, every unthwarted mugging is a violation of an individual’s rights and the police department must be held accountable for that violation to the same degree as if they kicked in your door and searched your house without a warrant. They were required to do something, protect you from crime, and they did not. They, therefore, violated your rights.

Of course that’s silly but that’s what we must believe if we say every individual has a right to police protection. A right is not just something the government makes available; it is something the government MUST do. When they don’t, a citizen has grounds to pursue legal recourse.

So, again, only negative rights are rights. In the scenario we’re discussing, the negative right is the right to self-defense. Government may not interfere with that. While I hope the police will prevent me from being assaulted, I have the right to stop the assault myself whether they show up or not. That is why the right to own and carry a gun cannot be infringed. Because to do so is to violate a real civil right, the right to self-defense.

Economics is About Managing Scarcity

Economics is About Managing ScarcityI recently read the tragic story of Laura Hiller. Laura died from Leukemia even though she had bone marrow transplant donors ready and willing to go. The reason? There were not enough hospital beds for transplant patients in Ontario where she lived. This is apparently an on-going problem in Canada.

One of the mantras of those seeking to establish a Canadian-like nationalized healthcare system in the United States is that no one should be denied a life-saving medical procedure because they are unable to pay for it. Setting aside how often that actually happens, is that worse than being denied such a procedure because you’re in the wrong place on a waiting list?

Those who think government can just supply things “free” to everyone who wants them don’t understand the concept of scarcity in economics. Scarcity says there are always more people who want a good or service than can be provided with it. Always. That remains true no matter what economic system is in play – whether capitalism or socialism. The only difference is the mechanism used to allocate resources.

In a capitalist system, the mechanism is the free market. Prices determine who gets what, when. Of course that means some people will not get some things, even important things, because they don’t have enough money to buy them. The fallacy is that when government makes things free, that problem goes away.

In a socialist system, the mechanism for allocating resources, while purported to be the government, is in reality things like time and proximity. It’s not those who have the most money who can obtain things but those who have the most time to wait in line or who live closest to the store so they can be at the front of the line when the doors open.

Think of it this way, if next week Apple raised the price of a MacBook Pro to $25,000, they would be out of reach of many people. But, here’s the rub – the same would be true if next week Apple lowered the price of a MacBook Pro to $25. Assuming their inventory is not unlimited, they would run out of computers in a matter of minutes. Again, the only difference is the people who get one in the second case are those at the front of the line rather than those who have $25,000 to spend.

Here’s the question: Is one of those situations more moral than the other? Is it better for people to be denied a good or service because they don’t have enough money or because they don’t have enough time or proximity? Either way, some people don’t get what they want.

So back to healthcare. Is it better for someone to die because they cannot afford to pay for a procedure or because they cannot get access to the procedure? Is one less dead than the other?

A better question is which of the two allocation methods allows for the most people to have access to the things they want or need and history has shown us over and over that it is capitalism and the free market that does that.


Photo credit: LendingMemo via / CC BY