Tom Hurst writes on liberty, free markets, private property rights, government and the Constitution from Nevada, USA
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Wants and Needs versus Constitutional Rights

By Tom Hurst, 11 September 2007

There was once a time in America when, if someone had a need for goods or services, they sought to fulfill it themselves, or perhaps with the charitable aid of their family or friends. Likewise, if one simply desired something, one would save and invest until one could afford it. In short, individuals prioritized what they needed and wanted, and then sought to afford these things more or less on their own. Needs came first, of course, and mere wants were only fulfilled after all needs were met. Alas, those respectable, Constitutional days of the individual are long gone. Now, instead of independent people expecting government to stay out of their way as they work to provide for themselves, nearly everyone eagerly asks and fully expects the government to somehow give them literally everything - not only things they need, but things they simply want - no matter what the actual cost. And politicians and bureaucrats eager to buy votes and increase their power over us are more than happy to attempt to fulfill such desires using money stolen from others (i.e. taxes). The net effect of this socialist moral corruption will be to destroy our society, economy and republic. Interestingly, it all comes down to understanding the difference between rights on the one hand, and wants and needs on the other.

Wants and needs, of course, have become corrupt terms in that many things people now consider "needs" are actually only "wants", and only very rarely, I intend to show, true Constitutional "rights". Let's begin by making a short list of the various things that the typical person expects government to provide for them: Free education from K-12 to college and trade schools. Salaries when unemployed. Housing and food if one is "poor". Libraries, parks and golf courses. Healthcare, no matter the cost. Police and fire protection. Protection from those who might say or do things that offend them, and even from immorality. Guarantees of safety and purity in everything from food and toys to air and water. Ultra-safe workplaces. Government jobs and contracts. Laws and subsidies that benefit them or their business to the detriment of others. Even monthly checks from the day one retires until the day one dies. The list is almost endless, of course, thus the cost of providing these things at the level that people demand is essentially infinite. With such a costly list, the first question that arises is who, exactly, pays for these things? Though the government ostensibly "provides" them - and takes credit for that, at least when things go well - it certainly doesn't pay for them itself. The fact of the matter is that since government itself produces absolutely nothing, all that it spends - that is, the cost of these needs and wants that it graciously supplies - must in the end be taken from someone who is productive. So, the reality is that taxes of all sorts pay for these things - taxes that all ultimately come from the pockets of productive citizens who likely have better things to do with their money than to give it to strangers via the government. Realizing that, the essential question then becomes, "Is the government authorized to steal from some citizens to benefit other citizens or even society as a whole?" Socialists, fascists and statists of all sorts - and this includes all Democrats and most Republicans - may say yes, but it's quite clear that our Constitution trumpets a resounding no!

Now that we've seen the reality of our sad and shameful situation where, ignoring the Constitution and the wisdom of our Founders, everyone goes through life with their hand out begging or stealing instead of holding their head high and being responsible for themselves, let's begin our look at how things *should* be. Of course, the most important determinant of how things should be in America is our Constitution. It is the ultimate, binding authority that defines the official and legal differences between wants and needs and rights. In reading that great document, one will first of all see that the people retain all rights, not by act of government, but by being sovereign individuals in a free country. Government, along with its attendant politicians, bureaucrats, regulations and laws, was viewed by our Founders as but a necessary evil intended to protect the fundamental rights each one of us possess. Yes, despite what most people think to the contrary, the Constitution is explicitly intended only to protect our rights via a government as small and limited as possible, not to provide for us, no matter what our level of need. One need only look at Article 1, Section 8 to find the very short list of things the federal government is authorized to do. Most items on the list have to do with various aspects of national defense - essentially protecting our individual rights from foreign aggression - which is a legitimate thing to do. Beyond those items, one finds only a few other authorizations: the post office, courts to provide a rule of law, and the minting of money. And with regard to the latter, I should mention that only gold and silver are authorized, not the worthless paper money we have now; how politicians and bureaucrats get around that is a mystery to me. In any case, like it or not, absolutely none of items on the long list of peoples wants and "needs" that I presented above appear in the Constitution.

So, what is the legal basis on which pandering politicians and bureaucrats justify providing such things? It's called the General Welfare clause. Unfortunately, the treasonous socialists we ostensibly elect to defend the Constitution are totally misreading what is, in fact, a generic preamble, and interpreting it as an authorization to provide literally everything to everyone. James Madison, a primary author of the Constitution puts such people back in their place when he writes, "With respect to the two words 'general welfare' [in the Constitution], I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them [Article 1, Section 8]. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators." This concept is echoed by none other than Thomas Jefferson, whose ideas greatly influenced the Constitution: "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." It seems pretty clear to me that government provision of the wants, and even many of the "needs" that people have is quite unconstitutional. Lest you think I'm stretching for this interpretation, Madison penned a very prescient refutation that explicitly addresses many of these things that have now come to be routinely provided by government: "If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress... Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America." Now, do you see my point? The America of wants and needs is not the America of the Constitution.

So, regardless of what one wants and "needs", what Constitutional rights does every individual citizen of America have? Political scientists and philosophers generically call them "negative rights". In short, they are rights that impose no burden on others. Such rights include the freedom to say, publish or read whatever one chooses; the right to one's spiritual beliefs; the right to do what one wishes, when one wishes (as long as one does not defraud or harm others); the right to associate (or not associate) with whomever they choose; the right to buy and sell at whatever price, and to enter into contracts; and, very importantly, the right to own property and determine how (or even if) it is used. Contrary to such true rights, the things that many people want and expect government to provide for them that I mentioned earlier all fall into a second category called "positive rights" which are, in fact, not Constitutional rights at all because they are contrary to individual liberty. The basic distinction is that positive rights require that others serve one as slaves, or have their money and property taken from them by government, so that another can have it. As champion of the individual Ayn Rand noted, "No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as the right to enslave." Think about it: a "right" to housing requires that someone provide land and materials and then build a house for you. It matters not that the "government does it" for you, for since government produces nothing itself, it can only take things - be they labor, goods or money - from other citizens and give them to you. Similarly with "rights" to education or healthcare. In both cases someone must either be conscripted to provide these services to you - that is, give you the fruits of their labor without compensation - or have their property and money taken (stolen) by government which then pays others to provide for you. Though such "rights" are popularly proclaimed by politicians as they pander for votes, by socialist citizens whose mantra is that we're all here to work for the "common good" of society, and by the hyper-socialist United Nations, being contrary to liberty they are definitely not rights that the Founders would recognize. In fact, I'm quite sure that the Founders are spinning in their graves as they contemplate the sad state of affairs we have come to.

In the end, it would seem that nearly always people's wants and needs are contrary both to their actual rights and to the powers of government authorized by our Constitution. Aside from the unjust and unconstitutional aspect of this dilemma, as a country we simply cannot afford such extravagances. While in the distant past the federal budget was modest enough such that we only needed to distinguish between wants and needs when prioritizing spending, now spending, "entitlements", debt and interest on the debt have risen to such outrageous levels that we truly cannot even pay for legitimate, Constitutionally authorized needs. Thanks to big government squandering our future, the only rational priority we can have at this sad point is to spend what we can afford - and that is much less than we need, let alone what many want. But politicians and bureaucrats are ever irresponsible and could care less about sensible economics, so they continue to spend and spend and spend. Yes, to buy votes and hence power, they are willing to spend money that we do not have and never will have. And to make this palatable and possible, they propagandize and program people from childhood onwards to claim rights and demand things from government that they have no Constitutional right to. So, through the irresponsible actions of politicians stealing and then bestowing money, and through some citizens demanding or at least accepting that money, we become poorer both as individuals and as a nation. The debt - which will certainly never be paid off - is passed on to future generations. Yes, our government even steals from people that are not even born yet. And so our society and economy will ultimately collapse due to both the ignorance and power-lust of our leaders and the greed of the people. The Founders were rightly worried that the Constitution would be ignored by both government and citizens, and predicted this unavoidable end. As Benjamin Franklin noted at the time, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." And Alexis de Tocqueville, a shrewd observer of early America, provided the other half of the equation: "The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money." And so it has come to be. Sadly, individual rights and the Constitution have been and will continue to be sacrificed to petty wants and phantom needs.

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Tom Hurst - Defender of liberty, free markets, private property rights, and the Constitution