Skip to main content

This essay is about rights.  As background I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature.

All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill.  Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort.  Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money.  This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money, even though it is the most important truth about money.  The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated.  What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.

First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against the owner’s will by force, fraud, or stealth and it can be lost or destroyed.  This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.

Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral.  Even animals are amoral in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money.  You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.

Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.

Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties.  Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense.  It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.

Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control.  In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.

Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions.  Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages.  This is particularly true of money.  The old saying “them as has, gets” is true.  Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier.  Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction.  Thus the relationship is unstable.

So keeping that review in mind, let’s consider rights.

Our old friend Wikipedia says QUOTE “There is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights.” UNQUOTE.  I would have to agree with that.  So we begin our stroll through the tangled undergrowth of rights by considering some of the various kinds of rights.  Perhaps we can eliminate as unworthy of consideration whole bundles and clumps of kinds of rights.  I have such intellectual arrogance in some ways.

The first distinction Wikipedia makes is between “claim rights” and “liberty rights.”  QUOTE “A claim right is a right which entails responsibilities, duties, or obligations on other parties regarding the right-holder.  In contrast, a liberty right is a right which does not entail obligations on other parties, but rather only freedom or permission for the right-holder.”  UNQUOTE.  It seems that the claim right of one person limits the liberty of some other person or persons.  But liberty rights such as free speech also limit the liberty of other persons.  In the case of free speech, a person being spoken to or about would have to be restricted by a claim right owned by the speaker which prevented the listener from forcing the speaker to shut up.  So though these two kinds of rights appear to be opposite they do relate strongly to each other.  Therefore the relationship between the two is a delicate balance.  One of the bedrock philosophies of libertarian thought is that liberty rights should be limited only by a claim right to have their liberty rights respected.  In other words, the only limitations on your liberty should be to allow everyone else their liberty as well.  It sounds great at first glance but is extremely difficult to put into practice.

The second distinction Wikipedia provides is individual and group rights.  Individual rights as a concept is pretty obvious.  It’s the group rights idea that takes some explaining.  Group rights apply to groups as categories of people such as ethnic or racial groups or religious groups and to groups as organizations.  The idea that a person can have rights due to ethnicity, race, and religion that are above and beyond their rights as persons seems a little strange to me.  Those would appear to me to be more in the nature of advantages than rights.  The Divine Rights of Kings springs to mind in that context.  Naturally, organizations have far more power and resources than do the majority of individuals; therefore it naturally follows that organizations would be treated better than lone individuals.  Examples of organizations which exercise their own rights would include unions, churches, guilds, political parties, and fraternities.

Next we have the categories of natural and legal rights.  Legal rights depend on what governments do; whether totalitarian, democratic, or falling apart.  Such rights are granted by the government and can be removed or denied by government.  Natural rights are considered to be both universal and fixed, or permanent.  They “come from nature” so to speak.  Legal rights are to some degree meaningful.  They are recognized by the state and are paid at least lip service by the state.  They can even, to some degree, be considered to be ideals.  At least some members of the citizenry benefit from such rights; but how and whether such laws are enforced – and how they are treated by the courts, if any, have a lot to do with whether such rights are meaningful.

Natural rights are difficult to take very seriously as a concept when you really think it through.  After all, slavery has been practiced for thousands of years. Presumably, those enslaved human beings would have possessed natural rights, but that didn’t matter when it came to their situation. Natural rights, in the absence of social and legal support; would appear to be a figment of the imagination, a pipe dream, an ideal.  Natural rights seem to be just about as real as unicorns.

Then Wikipedia describes negative and positive rights.  Positive rights require actions of one sort or another while negative rights require some inaction on the part of someone or other.  In the example cited by Wikipedia if Adrian has a negative right to life against Clay then Clay must not kill Adrian.  If Adrian has a positive right to life against Clay, then Clay is required to act to preserve Adrian’s life.  Most of the rights in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution are negative rights, intended to place limitations upon the government regarding what it may do.  The Bill of Rights requires, for example, that the government refrain from interfering with speech or religion.  Most governments at least make a show of having positive rights obligations to protect private property and citizens’ lives – even when those same governments ignore the needs of their citizens.

What we have indicated above concerning other categorizations of rights applies here.  Unless rights are codified in law and receive considerable social support, rights will be ignored more often than not.

Positive and negative rights can even be said to conflict with one another.  Frederic Bastiat wrote QUOTE “M. de Lamartine wrote me one day: ‘Your doctrine is only the half of my program; you have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity.’ I answered him: ‘The second half of your program will destroy the first half.’  And, in fact, it is quite impossible for me to separate the word ‘fraternity’ from the word ‘voluntary.’ It is quite impossible for me to conceive of fraternity as legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice being legally trampled underfoot.” UNQUOTE.  Further on in the Wikipedia article on negative and positive rights it says QUOTE “A negative right to life allows an individual to defend his life from others trying to kill him, or obtain voluntary assistance from others to defend his life—but he may not force others to defend him, because he has no natural right to be provided with defense.” UNQUOTE.  You will notice two aspects in both cases.  First the entire perspective is that one can have a right and that right can be completely ignored by other people.  The second aspect is that the only means by which rights can be supported is by coercion or force.  I would contend that in the former case, there is no right at all and in the latter case that the use of rewards to support rights is being completely ignored.  It is as if the philosophy views human nature as requiring a threat of punishment in order to generate desirable behavior.  To me, this implies that government is seen as the only source of rights.  I find both viewpoints as being seriously in error.  The former because most people act far more often to gain rewards than to avoid suffering and the latter because the government is the last place one should expect to find defense of and support for rights.

Wikipedia classifies the preceding categories of rights as being theoretical distinctions.  The next set of categories is considered to be human rights categories.

First among them is civil and political rights.  These are rights one enjoys as a consequence of being a citizen of some governmental unit such as a nation or a city.  Here we get into law and justifications for laws concerning civil rights to such things as life, freedom from injury or torture, freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or disability to borrow Wikipedia’s list of rights, and such individual rights as privacy, freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press.

Political rights, on the other hand, include due process in law, right to vote, right to petition, right of self-defense, and right to participate in the decision-making process of government by lobbying and such.

We can see that many of these listed rights are found in the other ways of categorizing rights just grouped differently.  But some of these rights such as freedom from discrimination are not listed among those we previously considered.

The next human rights category set is under economic, social, and cultural rights.  These include, and I quote from Wikipedia QUOTE “right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living, right to health, and the right to science and culture.”  UNQUOTE.  It’s beginning to sound like everyone is supposed to have a right to a good life and lots of good luck.  Some of these rights are recognized in international law and resolutions.  Some are products of various conventions.  It seems like if you can get some group of people who share a concern with some aspect of life in modern society that you can generate some right to make their lives better.  Personally, I would like the right to live without yappy dogs but I can’t see that happening.

The next set of categories under the human rights heading is the three generations of human rights.  The first generation rights are about liberty and politics and are largely negative protections from the government.  Our U.S. Constitution contains many of these first generation rights.  Second generation rights are mainly economic and social.  One might think of them as “level playing field” rights or “safety net” rights.  They mostly are thought of as obligations of government to provide for everyone.  The third and final set of rights are much more difficult to define.  They are a residual category, of course, and include group and collective rights, a right to natural resources, a right to participation in cultural heritage, and a right to intergenerational equity.  Just how such a wide variety of so-called rights could be more than a wish list is beyond me.  One might as well say that human beings have a right to live in utopia forever: it’s defining heaven on earth as a right.

The other categories on the Wikipedia “rights” page are “Rights by claimant” and other miscellaneous categories such as linguistic rights and digital rights.  I will not plow through that mess.

Once again one of our main conclusions when we take up broad concepts like liberty or capitalism is that the term is being used as a political tool, the meaning of which has been smeared across many topics in many contexts so that it has no definite, specific idea remaining.  But that’s all right in this case, too, because my points will not depend on any narrow meaning of the term or the concepts around it.

When we consider those many rights of all kinds and flavors we can find a common thread.  Yes, that thread is money.  You’re way ahead of me.  You will note that the rights, no matter how categorized, came to be defined or needed as a result of someone being abused or exploited either for money or using money as a tool.  Political rights help one defend oneself from having one’s money taken against one’s will.  Civil rights protect one from being politically exploited.  Pick your right or category of rights and I think you can readily detect the involvement of money either as a cause of the lack of that right – or as a means used to deny that right, or as a motive for denying that right. This is only natural since money is pretty intimately involved in so very much of modern life. Most folks as adults spend, give, or acquire money almost every day.  We know that our physical object money, or POM as we call it, does not provide these various rights in that these rights from first to last are denied again and again over history.  We know that POM can be taken from us against our will which creates a need for many of the rights mentioned.  We know that POM is amoral and thus can be used for the immoral denying of rights.  We know that POM falsely simulates a zero-sum game relationship which leads us to think of others as competitors, rivals, or even as enemies.  This antagonistic relationship makes us try to take advantage of others and to expect them to try to take advantage of us which leads to denial of rights.  We know that the two-party nature of POM transactions leads to concentrations of wealth and power which make it possible for the powerful to exploit the weak by denying rights.  In short, there would be little or no need for rights at all were it not for the nature of POM.  You will notice that we never hear about a right to breathe.  That’s because we all seem to breathe just fine and no one is making money by denying us the opportunity to breathe.

Let us contrast the situation in a POM economy, which we know well, with that in a non-POM economy which is still only in the mind and our imaginations.

Let’s start with liberty rights and claim rights.  In a non-POM economy there is no government, to speak of, for all practical purposes.  Therefore, liberty rights would not be needed to protect one from governmental actions.  There are no obligations on anyone to do anything in a non-POM economy.  You can just lie there and rot if you like.  No one else needs your money for anything.  No one else has any means to command your services.  So the liberty rights are just there without anyone having to do anything to protect them or defend them or bring them into being.  They are like gravity.  So no one will notice that they have liberty rights.  They will be there whether you pay attention or not and whether you like it or not.

Claim rights also do not need to exist.  One has duties, responsibilities, obligations and so forth only if and when one chooses to assume such duties.  If you choose to be irresponsible there is no punishment.  In the case of food, for example, you are quite free to not feed anyone and no one else is obligated to feed anyone.  But one will be able to have food to eat without giving up money because other people can get rewarded for providing that food.  You don’t need claim rights to get along just fine.

No one has to bother to think about or worry about liberty rights or claim rights in a non-POM economy.  So the idea of these kinds of rights can be dropped as useless.

Taking freedom of speech as an example we see that denying that freedom requires considerable effort.  That is, some people must be given the responsibility to notice what other people are saying, keeping track of what is being said, comparing those statements with prohibited or required statements, and then catching and punishing the speakers who are in violation of the speech laws.  Of course, creating the speech laws also requires considerable effort.  As you can see, the human and physical resources required for such an effort are immense.  In a non-POM economy, no one would be paid for all that work and for producing all those required resources.  Sure, there will be gossips and “nosey Nellies” but they would have no authority.  Any suffering for what one spoke or wrote would be a consequence of informal negative sanctions provided by ordinary citizens.  And although it would be a wonderful right to have if it existed, I have not heard of a right to be immune to gossip.

Next we have the categories of natural and legal rights.  Since there are no laws and no governments with non-POM economies – for all practical purposes – there would be no legal rights.  But then no legal rights would be needed either.  As to natural rights, this concept seems to be actualized by non-POM.  The idea of self-ownership, of liberty, of personal property, and all the other so-called natural rights would just automatically exist in such an economy.  They would require no effort on anyone’s part.  They would not need to be written down in any declaration.  They would seem to be just as obvious and natural and a part of life as breathing, gravity, and heat from fire.  In other words, they could simply be ignored and it wouldn’t matter.  So after a time, people would ignore them and nothing would change as a consequence.  Once upon a time people were really worried about health.  Roughly half the children born never reached adulthood.  Today, the idea of a child dying is shocking.  We have children and expect them to still be alive when we die.  We don’t spend much time worrying about our children getting some incurable disease unlike the situation hundreds of years ago.  The same change in attention will come about with respect to natural rights.  With non-POM rights are something we won’t need to worry about at all.

On to negative and positive rights.  Perhaps you recall how Bastiat held that positive rights destroyed negative rights.  Remember that Bastiat wrote “It is quite impossible for me to conceive of fraternity as legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed…” with liberty being the negative rights and fraternity being the positive rights.  But note that phrase “as legally enforced.”  With non-POM there is no legal enforcement because there is no law.  Clearly that lack of government and law allow for liberty.  But does that also mean that there can be no positive rights?  Not at all.  The non-POM economy rewards those who provide “fraternity.”  That is, people gain rewards if they provide you with the goods and services you need and from which you will benefit.  No one has to be coerced to provide those goods and services.  No law is required.  No pressure need be placed on anyone.  It’s just that people like rewards and will do things, even kind things, in order to gain those rewards.  In fact, rewards work far better than does coercion.  Consider the difference between the work of a slave and the work of a small business owner.  That slave will do as little as he can get away with.  He will not attempt to improve his productivity.  He will not try to do high-quality work.  He will not innovate.  The small business owner will work long hours and strive to produce the best product possible.  The small business owner is always trying to find a better, more efficient way to do the job.  So if one has to depend on one or the other, would you rather depend on the slave who works due to coercion or the small businessman who works for rewards?  So those positive rights being met in a non-POM economy will not in any way interfere with or restrict liberty, or negative rights.  In fact, as with the other categories above, liberty and fraternity will be so common and so effortless in a non-POM economy that they will be ignored.  “People just act that way” it will be said.  People like being nice to each other.  I certainly have found it so.  Perhaps your experience has been different.

The next categories we examined were civil and political rights, rights one enjoys as a consequence of being a citizen of some governmental unit such as a nation or a city and rights having to do with our interactions with government.  One feels obligated to question any right that one acquires by being a citizen.  After all, such a right can be removed by stripping you of your citizenship.  Why should we treat one person one way and another person another way just because of where they were born?  Well, with non-POM there is no such distinction.  Political jurisdictions are irrelevant.  Each person is just that, a person to be judged on his or her own merits or “demerits.”  That’s what a true free market does and with non-POM the free market extends to all public actions.  Those civil rights which oppose discrimination are unnecessary in a non-POM economy because discrimination is so expensive for those who discriminate on any basis other than performance.  The same is true for those “Bill of Rights” rights.  It’s very expensive for those who attempt to deny such rights.  They not only do a lot of work with many people opposing their efforts (protecting rights earns non-POM) but they sacrifice potential future earnings.  How many people would advocate banning a book from a school library if that action would cost them hundreds of dollars and make it harder to find people to work with?  I say that not many would do so.  Besides, if that book being there causes anyone harm, then those who put it there will lose future income.  So why bother trying to remove it?

So far as those political rights in interaction with the government, there’s almost no government left.   With no such interaction, rights regarding that interaction would become pointless.  With no taxes, no laws, and no government bureaucracy or spending, who cares about government?

We have established a pattern here.  For each category of rights no matter whether the rights are the rights of individuals or categories of persons, the rights are either irrelevant to life in non-POM or are already provided as a matter of course without any need for enforcement of any kind.  Do you think there should be a right to education?  In non-POM economies anyone who provides useful education gets paid for doing so.  The educator needs no one’s permission to provide that education.  And, that education can be provided by any means of communication.  It can be done in one-on-one talking, in lectures, in tweets, in videos, in pantomime, in sign language, by any means that people have found to communicate ideas.  Do you think that people have a right to health care?  In non-POM anyone who provides beneficial health care earns money.  So there’s no need for insurance or medical plans.  No one gets paid to deny health care.  (With POM there are thousands of people whose job it is to deny health care to others!)

The conclusion that we can draw from this pattern is simple and mind-blowing at the same time.  The need for rights is a consequence of the nature of our money, our POM.  The idea of rights would never have come about if it were not for POM.  The idea of a right is an adversarial concept:  that is, it is the idea of stopping someone from doing something or of requiring someone to do something.  It is an attempt to control persons.  Rights are saying you must do this or you must not do this.  The idea that people must be coerced into behaving properly is a POM-inspired idea.  The relationships among people that are influenced by POM – and that includes most human interactions in this modern world – those relationships are made antagonistic and coercive by the nature of POM.

So when people demand their rights, remind them that they can get their rights only if we change the nature of the money we use, only if we change over to a non-POM.  When people find their rights denied, remind them that they have that problem only because we use a POM.  It is the POM that’s at the root of their problems.  I will even go so far as to say that for all human problems, humanity’s best chance of solving those problems can come about only by use of a non-POM for every POM economy will have people acting against each other rather than helping each other.  Only with non-POM will everyone have a powerful motive to help one another and prevent problems.  Only with non-POM can we realize the true nature of our relationship to others, that is, we are mutually interdependent.  We all need other people and we all have benefited from the actions of other people.  Everyone should be our friends.  No one should be our enemies.  We are all in this together and we can solve the huge problems we face as a sentient species only by cooperation.  That’s the message of non-POM.

Any group of people who feel the need and desire for rights is suffering under the yoke of POM.  So in a way we need to eliminate the whole concept of rights by eliminating the need for such a concept. Think this next part through. In fact, read it again. What it all boils down to is this:  You will find it impossible to get rid of the idea of rights in a POM economy.  You will find it unnecessary to pay attention to rights in a non-POM economy.  So if you want your rights, whatever they are, you should change over to a non-POM so that the whole idea of rights can pass into history and be forgotten because of being unneeded.


Comments are closed.