Volokh has an interesting series of posts about proposals for mandatory national service, possible Thirteenth Amendment issues, and the government’s ability to force labour. (First post in series here.) One tangetial issue is the various justifications for a period of mandatory national service (community service, army work, “volunteering,” etc) – the reasons why a government may confiscate someone’s liberty. (Discussion here.) Generally, the justifications are: it’s good for young persons to meet new people; it builds national pride; teaches them to survive on their own, outside of their coddling families; and young people owe it to the nation.
All but the latter are fairly harmless; however, the idea that citizens owe their country more than taxes and non-aggression is appalling. It is also distinctly related the positive rights: a country which provides to you, by your right, an education, health care, retirement benefits, and the like is one that may commandeer from you payment for such services – and may demand that the payment be in any form. It is not truly slavery; it is an indentured servitude, whereby the terms of the repayment are determined exclusively by the creditor. There is no mechanism whereby an individual may make an accounting and declare his servitude over, or pay another to serve for him.
A parent who gives, out of rational self-interest, a college education to his child is hardly in a position to demand forced servitude as repayment. Forced consumption, or even consumption for the benefit of another, does not cause one to be indebted to the provider. Contrariwise, a parent who gives a college education to a child because of the need of the child and his ability to so provide may morally extract, at a later point, money and labour that he needs and his child can provide.
Likewise, a government that provides for all the needs of its citizens, as a basic right, may impose additional burdens on certain citizens to provide for the rights of others. It does so at its discretion and with absolute power. If a person’s very existence is dependent upon the government, it may extract a part of that existence in payment. A government which acts primarily to curtail the aggressive tendencies of certain segments of the population may demand from all the duty of non-aggression and payment for such enforcement; it has no other claim upon its citizens. Socialism is not simply bad economics; it allows for radical reconfiguration of our ideas of liberty, freedom, and the means by which society and government extract payment from the people.
- John Edwards does away with negative rights.
- Why negative rights matter, and how positive rights erode them.