The best way to assess ideas is to extrapolate from the logic upon which they are based, to ask "if X" then why not "Y?" And if you extend to "Y" on that basis how do you prevent extension to "W" and "Z" too?
Does the underlying premise contain any "stopping point" short of a descent into absurdity? Does it possess in itself a means for preventing the slide down that logical "slippery slope," to places we wouldn't want to go?
When viewed in such terms, a number of currently appealing ideas become much less so, including:
• The idea of health care as a "right."
We might as a society wish to move toward the kind of universal health care systems found in other postindustrial democracies but we confuse ourselves by discussing this in terms of "rights" rather than prudence or simple moral obligation.
We have "unalienable" rights to speech, press, religion, and assembly because there are no inherent limits to their exercise and because that exercise doesn't come at the expense of others -- my speech or religious conviction doesn't impede yours because there is no zero-sum game involved.
On the other hand, we can never have a right to those things for which there is a limited supply ("scarce goods") and that can therefore be guaranteed only if someone else is forced by the government to give them to us.
When we claim health care as a right we cross the crucial line from "negative" rights, defined as those that government cannot transgress, to "positive" rights, defined as those that only the government can provide, in the process altering the relationship between citizen and state and removing any limits to what rights can be thereafter claimed, perhaps to a well-paying job, free college, a swank apartment, or any other good or service of which there will always be a finite quantity.
Before long, given that each such right would create momentum for the next and politicians would always have incentives to identify new ones in their pursuit of electoral advantage, we could end up with rights to HBO subscriptions, paid vacations in the Bahamas, and Porsche Boxsters.
Again, no enlightened society denies people medical care due to financial hardship, and health care reform must proceed accordingly, but we must also take care to avoid an understanding of rights that leads to their proliferation and trivialization and devalues the genuine ones contained in the first ten amendments to our Constitution.
• The $15 minimum wage; actually, any kind of minimum wage, because the government can't ultimately make people's labor more valuable in the marketplace than the marketplace itself dictates.
The value of our labor is determined only by the value that it adds to a firm's products and profits; it has no relation whatsoever to what external observers, including elected officials, think that value should be. We can raise the minimum wage to whatever level we think sounds good, but it cannot change market realities and employers seeking to stay in business and operate efficiently toward that end will respond by cutting payrolls, reducing employee hours, and increasing prices.
Or simply by replacing that suddenly more expensive labor with inanimate (automated) forms, as technology permits.
But the logical flaw comes at the beginning, with the very notion of government dictating terms of employment between consenting adults according to some abstract (meaningless) definition of value.
And if compassion with other people's money dictates that we decree a $15 minimum wage, and the actual numbers are purely subjective, with no relationship to market forces of supply and demand, then why not be more compassionate still and go for $20, or even $30? Why be so stingy?
• Permitting 16-year olds to vote, as Nancy Pelosi has proposed, and more than half of Democrats in the House recently voted for.
The quality of the electorate matters more for sound government than its sheer size, and at a time when abundant survey research indicates an alarming lack of knowledge of basic history and civics on the part of young people it seems peculiar indeed to want more of them voting at an even earlier age. Based on such data, a more reasonable proposal might be to go in the opposite direction and raise the requirement back to 21, if not higher.
But if we accept the premise that the vote should be extended to 16-year olds because, in Pelosi's words, "it's really important to capture kids when they're in high school, when they're interested in all this ... ," why not extend it to 14- or even 13-year olds based on the same rationale? And if to that low an age, by what logic not still lower?
It becomes hard to keep images of Mao Red Guards or Lord of the Flies from swimming to mind.
There is also the contradiction by which Democrats are supporting a bill to reduce the age requirement for voting but also bills nationwide to increase it for criminal responsibility (beyond 16- and 17-years), purchase of a semi-automatic rifle, smoking and vaping, and even obtaining a driver's license (to 18).
Apparently, for Democrats, 16- and 17-year olds are too immature to do anything other than vote. And then only if they vote Democrat.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.Editorial on 03/25/2019
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