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Rights, Privileges, Franklin Roosevelt, and an Unfinished Revolution

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Rights, Privileges, Franklin Roosevelt, and an Unfinished Revolution

By Richard Girard

"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god--the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!"--William Shakespeare; Hamlet, act 2, scene 2.

In previous OpEdNews articles, I have discussed whether human beings have rights: innate powers of self-determination and individual expression, which are limited only by their potential to harm other human beings now and in the future, and where these rights come from (Rights, Powers, Privileges, and Responsibilities, among others)? If these rights exist, what is their source, are they limited in number and scope, or are they potentially unlimited and changing in number, scope, meaning and application over time (See especially The Tao of Government, Right is Wrong, The Ghost of Ancient Hellas, and The Communist Takeover of America )? Finally, is there a difference between a right and a privilege?

There are too many people today who think that what rights they have are absolute, or nearly so: that unless their actions represent a clear and present danger to others, they should be permitted to do as they desire. This is especially true in the economic sphere where "caveat emptor"--let the buyer beware for the majority of you who think Latin is a musical style--seems to be the sole limitation that many business people desire to be saddled with.

The problem with such a short-sighted view of harm can be seen in examples of disasters and near-disasters such as: the harm to children caused by lead poisoning from tetraethyl lead in gasoline and the lead in pre-1978 paints; the various EPA "Superfund" pollution sites; the multitude of near-disasters involving our strategic nuclear forces during the Cold War, as well as the damage to the environment by nuclear weapons plants like Rocky Flats here in Colorado and Hanford in Washington state. Avarice, the desire for wealth for it's own sake, is a form of evil as well as a mental illness. It is when a human being's selfish desire for a thing for its own sake is exalted in both its utilitarian and abstract value above the value of living things, especially other human beings.

There are also individuals who believe that their rights--in particular property rights--are somehow superior to the non-property rights possessed by the rest of us. For these individuals, somehow taxation is theft, rather than the duty and responsibility they have as a member of society to the rest of us. We cannot as individuals avoid the payment of taxes, simply because we will never use the services those taxes provide, or disagree with the use that those taxes are providing for other members of the public.

You may be fortunate enough to never need unemployment insurance, or food stamps, or public housing, or Medicaid, or even Social Security. They are there just in case you do need them, should tragedy or misfortune befall you or your family. They are part of a system of "social insurance" started by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930's. This system of social insurance reached its pinnacle under President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960"s, but it was never as extensive or inclusive as the systems of the other Western democracies. The so-called "Reagan Revolution"--really a counter-revolution in response to the New Deal and the Great Society--began the destruction of this social safety net in the 1980's. This has created a series of gaps in the social safety net's coverage that you could drive a semi-truck through sideways thirty years later.

There are those on the Right who like to call programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid "entitlements," which is a fancy way of saying privileges. These heartless trolls like to include everything from Federal funding for education to farm subsidies to unemployment to food stamps to student loans under the wildly inaccurate descriptive term "entitlements." In their eyes, these programs are nothing more than undeserved privileges extended to the poor, working and middle-classes--more than 75 percent of the American electorate--as an inducement to vote for the 'spendthrift" Democrats rather than the politically conservative, "fiscally responsible" Republicans. In reality, these programs are "social" insurance policies, carried by the Federal government, to protect us against unforeseen disaster in our lives.

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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