On the front cover of the October 31st edition of National Review is a photograph taken at one of the “Occupy Wall Street” gatherings. The main subject of the photo is a young woman holding a cardboard sign communicating her message. The sign reads, “Happiness is A Your Right.” (The “A” was scratched out and replaced with “Your”)
The sentiment displayed on the sign might be the quintessential message of OWS. We do not have to work very hard to demonstrate how the idea self-destructs.
If someone has a “right,” then there are others who are obligated to fulfill that right. Also, “happiness” is about the most subjective quantity in the entire universe – to be defined internally by each individual.
The negative rights that are encoded in our US Constitution and The Bill of Rights are rights that may be fulfilled by society without expense to others and without infringing on the basic rights of others. For instance, the right of free speech only obliges others to allow that the speaker may speak their mind. There is no obligation for others to pay for the speech, nor is there an obligation upon others that they must listen to the speaker.
However, if there is created a “right” for every person to have a chicken in their pot, then there must come along with it an obligation upon someone to provide that chicken. This is an example of a positive right, and it is the cusp of the slippery slope to tyranny.
Imagine if the young princess has a “right” to happiness. Then the entire society is obligated to provide to her whatever it is that might make her “happy.” Of course, it goes without saying, that these things would necessarily be provided to her at no cost to her, or at a very, very low cost that would ensure that her “happiness” was “affordable.”
Does anybody see a problem with a world designed in such a fashion?
Perhaps she would be happy if she were to wear a diamond-encrusted tiara while riding an elephant within her parade along the Florida coast. Or, perhaps she will be happy, only when all of humanity is prevented from eating meat to ensure her that there is no animal killed for the purpose of human consumption.
Perhaps she is a little bit thoughtful of others, and therefore she might desire that her boyfriend be happy too. And, of course, that would also be his “right.”
Perhaps he would be happy if he were provided with a brand new Ferrari this week, a vintage Ferrari next week, and a different Ferrari, new and old, each alternating week from now on. Or, how about this, perhaps to make him happy, he would require that each of his favorite sports teams would never lose a game. I suppose this is sounding a little bit impossible, but there is another solution.
Since it would be economically impossible to make everybody happy based on self-centered, frivolous and unlimited desires, perhaps we should allow the government to define what “happiness” is, and then task the government with providing to everybody the nominal things that will create that “happiness.”
What I am describing is the true essence of the systems of socialism. This is technically outside to the textbook description regarding the governments ownership of the means of production, etcetera, but the essence, the end result, as it affects people is really the issue. There is no avoiding it, the “fairness,” “equal outcomes,” “social and economic justice” ideas have consequences. The results upon the individuals who become the living victims of socialism are always the same. As government confiscates more and more of the fruits of an individual’s labor, the system destroys incentives for individuals to produce, or to innovate. Those consequences always arrive at a situation of equal poverty for all, except of course, for the elite class who manage the impoverished.
The young woman’s sign almost has the right words. However, words have meaning, and ideas have consequences. Most of us, the real 99%, would be much more prosperous if she could understand the vast distinction between a right to “happiness” versus a right to “pursue happiness.”