Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Response to the ongoing "Welfare in America" debate in BYU's "Political Review."

So, I have read BYU associate professor of Political Science, Dr. Gichrist's response to Jacob Glenn's piece on America and the welfare system in BYU's Political Review.

The article can be found and read here:

Here is my response to Dr. Gilchrist's article:

I think Thomas Paine best defines and illustrates the distinctions between natural rights and civil rights, since as you mentioned, Dr. Gilchrist, that Locke is not the sole authority on rights.  Indeed, like all of his contemporary American and European Whigs, radicals, and revolutionaries, Paine received influence from Locke and other radical Whig writers of the 17th and 18th centuries.

In his 1791 piece, "The Rights of Man," Paine writes:

"Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others.

Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society.  Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those which relate to security and protection.

From this short review it will be easy to distinguish between that class of natural rights which man retains after entering into society and those which he throws into the common stock as a member of society. The natural rights which he retains are all those in which the power to execute is as perfect in the individual as the right itself."

However, he also writes something very interesting a little later in “The Rights of Man” while discussing monopolies; he writes about a specific natural right that we retain, even after we have entered into the societal compact and deposited some of our natural rights best executed by society, as civil rights, into that common stock of rights:

"In a city, such for instance as Bath [England], which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of electing representatives to the Parliament is monopolized by about thirty-one persons.  And within these monopolies are still others.  A man even of the same town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius or industry what it may."

-Thomas Paine, "Rights of Man." (pg. 53)

So it would seem that Paine is saying that, as human beings, we all have the equal, natural right to ACQUIRE an occupation, regardless of our family, pedigree, possessions, wealth, genius, or industry.  I would like to point out the specific use of the word "acquire."  I see this as logically meaning that regardless of one's position in society, all individuals, being equal before the law, have and maintain the natural right to acquire an occupation, as opposed to having the "natural right" (or civil right) to have an occupation provided for you, be it by the government or anyone else.  It seems to me that if we do not have the natural right of being provided a job/occupation by the government, then it only seems logical then that  we do not have the natural right of being provided funding or financial security, funded by revenue from taxation, for this is a something that each individual may effectively execute himself/herself.  We do, however, have the natural right of ACQUIRING financial security/funding and being secure under the law in the possession of that security, secure against arbitrary seizure, dictated by the 4th Amendment, as opposed to having the natural right (or civil right) of having that financial security PROVIDED by the government via taxation. 
It seems to me that what America is debating, and what many don't seem to understand about our natural and civil rights, is that we don't really have a "natural right to PROVISION, but, rather, a natural right to ACQUISITION, of physical, material, private property, be it landed property, possessions, or monetary property."

Therefore, Dr. Gilchrist, I will have to disagree with your argument that the government may “produce,” or as you say, “protect our natural rights by building interstate highway systems, public education, Social Security, and Medicare.”  If we maintain the natural right of acquiring occupations by ourselves, then we maintain the natural right of acquiring “Social Security” and “Medicare” by ourselves as well, because all these are is funding, or financial security, provided by the government via taxation.  I would argue that we do have the “civil right” of public education (primary education, through high school) and interstate highways, in that because it ineffective for each individual to maintain and execute by himself/herself the building of interstate highway systems or teaching himself/herself one’s own primary education while living in a society, we have deposited these natural rights into that common stock of rights of society for society, or our government, to execute.  But I do not believe we have deposited our natural right to acquire financial security, for whatever use it may be put to, which means I do not believe it is a civil right, or natural right, to have financial security PROVIDED for the individual by means of taxation, taking another’s acquired property, in which he is protected by his/her natural rights, in order to provide it for someone else to live off of.  The government does not protect our natural rights by providing these things for us.   Rather, it protects our natural rights to acquire these things and and protects our natural rights in being secure in maintaining these things and protecting them from arbitrary seizure.  When the government begins to think it can seize these things by means of a tax, and continue to tax these things whenever it feels like it, however many times it feels like it, and by establishing unequal rates any time it feels like it, the government is not abiding by nor protecting our natural rights, but is instead invading and abridging them, and is attempting to become a law unto itself (see D&C 88, 34-36).

It must be remembered, however, that though we have the natural right to acquisition, this does not mean that we will be guaranteed any receiving, or that we are guaranteed to receive the thing we are attempting to acquire.  This is because we also maintain the natural right to private property, and no one can force an individual to give or exchange of his private property without proper and just compensation or restitution.   Remember, Paine said that our natural rights  cannot encroach upon or injure another’s natural rights (which I believe provision by the government of financial security by means of taxation does do).  Therefore, just because we have the natural right to acquisition, does not mean have the natural right to a guarantee of receiving.  It merely means that no one individual or group, including the government, may bar any individual from exercising his natural right to acquisition, based on creed, sex, age, pedigree, wealth, race, physical appearance of features, etc.  It in no way assures any receiving of the thing the individual is attempting to acquire.  Indeed, if the government had the power to tax private property whenever it please, however it pleased, however many times it pleased, and at any unequal rating system it pleased, can it be said that we even own the private possession anymore, and that it isn’t the property of the government, who has loaned it to the individual?  On a side note this is what will happen with the estate tax coming back next year.  It is quadruple taxation, taxation on an item that has once been taxed upon purchase or acquisition, twice been taxed every year due to property taxes, and thrice been taxed due to income tax.  Where will the number of taxations stop if not at quadruple taxation on a private possession that has already been taxed once before, and in this case, three times before?  Do you really “own” such an item anymore?  But, I digress.

Concerning the civil rights of public education and the building of interstate highway systems and other infrastructural issues, these can be proved as civil rights in that they are present in the bowels of the Constitution, under the 1st clause of Article 1, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”  That this is a civil right is proven by the fact that each American who decides to reside among society, deposits these natural rights  into the common stock of rights of the society, to be executed by society, or this case, the Congress.  And historical analysis of the words of the founders and framers of the Constitution also serves as proof, seeing as many of the founders were in favor of public, primary education and infrastructure throughout the union and states.  But what is not provided in the Constitution, as a civil right, and what is not even a natural right, is the so-called “right to be provided financial security from the government by means of taxation.”  Many people claim this is found in the “general welfare clause,” but this cannot be so.

“General welfare” means everyone benefits equally and lawfully; no one is barred by laws from benefiting from these things, from traveling on the public highways and roads, from benefiting from and participating in public, primary education.  It does not mean that some people receive and others are forced to give, or some receive or are provided and some do not, according to their situations.  This last definition of “welfare” that many seem to believe in America today is arbitrary.   It leaves it up to some bureaucrat to decide who receives and who is coerced into giving, or who receives and who does not.  It cannot logically be so in a nation of laws, where all are equal before the law, where all, including their natural and civil rights, are protected by the law, and where liberty is the national slogan for all. 

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in America and the world today on what exactly is a natural right and a civil right.  And to disagree with you once more, I see no difference between a civil right a civil liberty.  They are one in the same; for a civil right establishes, or brings about civil liberty.

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