Thursday, October 30, 2008

Universal human rights — self-contradictory?

I saw this moving-type video on the I Love Typography blog. It promotes universal human rights, as defined by the United Nations.

It’s a nice idea. I believe the majority of what it says. But the final part, starting (at 2:50) with assertion that one’s society is responsible for helping one’s growth and development (and going on about rights to minimum wage, maximum work day, education, health, low-interest mortgages with bad credit history), contradicts the message of the first part, and any attempts to implement this idea in practice result in destruction of the values originally promoted. A typical example of an application of liberal thinking. What I wrote in comments on YouTube:
A lot of this is true. A lot is false. E.g., you don’t have a right to a certain salary, because it violates your employers right to pay what he thinks fair price for your labor. You do have a right to refuse working for him and choose to work for a competing employer who offers a better salary — which will happen in a society free from government regulations.

Saying that someone has the right to education (or any other service) is saying that he has the right to take money from others to pay for it, thus violating the their right to their property.

You don’t have to support a social order that steals money from rich to give to poor, thus violating the formers rights to their property.

If we want people to have education, medicine, high standard of living, etc., we need to create a society with economy as free as possible. Everyone benefits then.
The major problem is that people don’t understand where the idea of rights comes from. Most people seem to think one has rights to something because with it he is better off, or because we feel bad if we imagine him not having it. In reality, this is not where rights come from.

A right to something is a monopoly to it. I have a right to my pencil, meaning, that only I can use it — you or anybody else cannot. So, I am protecting my liberty to use the pencil but restricting yours to do the same. Why? Well, in case of scarce resources, somebody’s liberty to use them will be inevitably restricted — only one of us can be using the pencil. So, let it be the liberty of those who don’t have a good claim for this resource that will be restricted and the liberty of those who do (because they made it, bought it, inherited it or found it first) that will be upheld.

That’s it. A person, therefore, cannot have a right to a non-scarce resource (such as an idea) or to a resource, which can be obtained only by taking another person’s resource away (such as free education or medicine). Nor can a person hire the government to take somebody else’s resource, as Claude Frederic Bastiat argues in the recently reviewed essay, “The Law”.

Furthermore, in a truly free society, one does not need society to help his growth and development. The fact that he is free to trade goods and services (material and intellectual) with others — in a setting where his fundamental rights are protected — is already all he needs to grow and develop. And if he needs some philanthropic help to do so, there will always be people willing to volunteer such help. There have always been such people, and the freer (and, therefore, richer) the society is, the more numerous such people are.

If one does not agree with this assertion, I suggest he looks at history and tries to compare the amount of development produced from private efforts, as a result of free exchange of goods and services, to the amount of government-sponsored progress.

From typographical point of view, the video is not too imaginative. The font is in all caps and is rather dull. I liked these videos more. (Other examples.) Of course, the major purpose of this video is its contents, not form.

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