[This is the addended and linked transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 30 September 2011]
It looks like we’re entering into the season of rights again. Wisconsin judge Patrick Fiedler has informed the nation that we don’t have and never had any rights to either our cows, our crops, or our gardens, and that we may enjoy their benefits only to the extent that the government permits. Meanwhile, here in California we are again leading the world in the discovery of a new “fundamental human right”, that being home ownership – everyone has a right to their own home.
Ladies and gentlemen, none of this is made up or hyperbole. I am talking about the Foreclosure Modification Act, which California voters will see on their ballots as another initiative in November 2012. The act will essentially prohibit the lender from foreclosing on a house that is the contracted collateral for the mortgage on the house.
Specifically, one of the purposes of the act is to “prevent the loss of one's personal home property by foreclosure or other means due to hardship or illness or other calamity.” Under “other calamity” we find such things as tanking of the real estate market, or interest rate hikes that affect adjustable rate mortgages. With this new right under our belts, we get to stiff the lender if the market value of our house goes ‘under water’, or we simply can’t come up with the monthly mortgage. The lender cannot kick us out of our house and must renegotiate the loan to make it compatible with our new financial situation. It will be one of our rights.
This kind of rights creep has been going on for the last several decades. Things we naturally thought were our rights, such as property ownership, have been whittled away to effectively government permitted custodianship or simply criminalized. And then new rights have been bestowed on us which we never expected to be called rights – like the right to safe hiking trails or nationalized healthcare - which, when enforced, almost always reduce our ability to enjoy what the right is supposed to promote. You can form your own estimate of what will happen to California’s housing market if we pass the Foreclosure Modification Act.
19th century French political philosopher and economist Frederic Bastiat was an astute student of the American Revolution and of the political philosophy that launched it. One of his many contributions was the distillation of rights into their fewest number that could serve as the basis for the laws of a free nation-state. He reduced them down to the three necessary natural rights.
In his own words - Each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?
God or not, the important point here is that these rights - sometimes called the Bastiat Triangle of personal security, liberty, and property - rise and fall together. Like a triangle, these rights form a minimum stable structure from which, as needed, other rights can be fashioned. A state cannot weaken one without necessarily weakening the other two. Dear listener, I sincerely invite you to ponder this powerful concept, and perhaps, see it in a broader context by reading Bastiat’s classic monograph entitled The Law.
As an exit question - should a citizen consider not voting on issues, such as rights, when she has no clear understanding of what they are?
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on these and other themes in my Union columns, and on georgerebane.com where this transcript appears with appropriate links to reference materials. These opinions are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.
[Addendum] For completeness we should expand the operational definitions of rights and privileges. The following are taken from an expanded piece – ‘Rights and Privileges’ – that I wrote to give a basis for future discussions such as this. They are now summarized below.
1. is a permission to do, be, or have that does not have to be formally codified;
2. is granted by a party/agency that can legally prevent the exercise of the permission;
3. is intended to be granted and withdrawn with minimal or no due process; and
4. its grantor has no obligation to enable exercise of the permission;
1. is a codified permission to do, be, or have;
2. is granted by an agency that can legally enable and prevent the exercise of the permission;
3. is granted to specified agency members to carry out an expression of collective will;
4. is intended to be permanent and granted equally to all specified members;
5. its grantor has the explicit obligation to expend all required resources to enable exercise of the permission within its jurisdiction; and
6. is in effect (i.e. remains a right) only to the extent that its grantor enables its exercise.
Finally, when one considers the imposition and/or impact of a new or established right, it should always include the examination of OBLIGATIONS the right engenders. Every right, as enforced, also obligates certain people to do, be, or relinquish some things that they would not have to, absent that right. Therefore, before we go spraying more rights over the countryside, it would be prudent to consider what these broader obligations would be and where they may land. Lately this has not been the case, and as a society we suffer for it.