[This tale continues where the previous one left off. We find young Kwai Chang Caine and Master Po walking in silence for a long time. Then Kwai Chang begins to speak.]
KC: Master Po, why does Trump want to take away our right to health care?
PO: Hmmm…. What do you mean by “our right?” What does this word “right” really mean?
KC: Well, it has many meanings. For example, right vs. left, right vs. wrong, right to life, right to die, righting a wrong, a right triangle, a right whale, a right answer and so on. It’s a versatile word. But what I mean is an individual’s right to good health care.
PO: Very well, let’s concentrate our meditation on that sense of the word – a moral or legal entitlement to something.
KC: Yes, like good health care. There are so many people in our city who need good health care, and …
PO: [Interrupting] Wait a minute! Are you talking about rights or needs now?
KC: Well, uh, … [glancing at Master Po, half expecting another blow like the one that ended their previous conversation] … I think they’re related.
PO: [Gritting his teeth] No, they are not, Grasshopper. A fire needs air to burn. It does not have a right to air, nor a right to burn in the first place. Our fair land is governed by a Constitution, is it not? And part of that is the Bill of Rights, not the Bill of Needs, correct?
KC: But what about health care? People will die if they don’t receive proper health care.
PO: And if they do, will they live forever?
KC: Well, no, but … but what about “Right to Life?”
PO: That’s a completely different topic that we’ll tackle at some time in the future. For now, let’s consider your concern about the right to good health care. Tell me, Grasshopper, do rights change over time?
KC: Well, yes, I think so. For example, people as young as 18 years can vote now, but that wasn’t always the case.
PO: Ah, and is the right to vote a ‘right’ in the same sense as your ‘right to receive good health care’, Grasshopper?
KC: I see what you mean! The first one is a ‘privilege’ of sorts, granted to us by common consent.
PO: And the other?
KC: I’m confused. I think I see where you’re going with this…
PO: Does your “right” to good health care still exist if the technology to provide it disappears? Does everyone have a “right” to the most expensive health care available?
KC: Well, uh…
PO: If you have a “right” to receive good health care, then does that not impose on someone else the obligation to provide it to you?
KC: I suppose so…. Yes, it does!
PO: And that person then becomes …
KC: [slowly and thoughtfully] … My slave! Whether he is the one providing the service, or the one who is taxed to pay for it – he works for my benefit, and not his. And that is a slave!
PO: Precisely, Grasshopper. How can one claim a right that makes another man a slave? How does that fit into any reasonable use of the word “right?”
KC: I see now, Master Po. We all have a right to purchase goods and services on the open market, and good health care is one such service, as is the insurance some people buy to spread the cost of rare but catastrophic illness over a larger group of people.
PO: Right again, Grasshopper! We all have a right to make decisions about how hard we will work, what kind of work we will do, what wages we will work for, what products we will buy and how much we are willing to pay for them. That’s part of being free. We are all inherently free, as the Declaration of Independence says, to pursue happiness. But we do not have a “right” to happiness – only to the pursuit thereof.
KC: But, Master Po, we do have a right to things like Social Security, to Medicare and Medicaid, and so on. Is it not so?
PO: Ah, Grasshopper, you have hit upon one of the many subtle shades of meaning of the word “right.” These things you mention, they are not “natural rights” but rather legal entitlements. At one point in our history, was it not legal for people to own slaves?
KC: Yes, Master Po, it was legal.
PO: Then it was ‘right’, was it not?
KC: Ah, I see – you are playing with the many senses of the word now. This word “right” has many connotations that can mislead the uncritical thinker.
PO: [Chuckling quietly] Yes, yes. Calling something a “right” does not make it “right.” There are many conventions and agreements and compromises we accept in social life.
KC: I see. They involve trading some measure of one’s own freedom for a perceived advantage. And sometimes, as in the case of taxes for roads and schools, they may have only a very indirect benefit – or none at all – to at least some portion of those being taxed.
PO: It is so, is it not?
KC: But what then of health care? Should we not just declare health care to be a legal right of all our citizens?
PO: And what of the cost? Our health care costs are increasing every day, and limited only by the ability of people to pay for it. When we make it a “right” how will we pay for it? And how shall we ration it when the demand exceeds the supply? Will we have so-called “death panels” as some have said?
KC: But, but … but think of the children! And what about Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Hillary –
At that point Master PO turned to Kwai Chang and bitch-slapped him once more into momentary unconsciousness, whereupon Master Po sat down next to the fallen lad and began to meditate. When the boy opened his eyes, Master Po smiled at him.
KC: Oh… uh…. Thanks, Master Po. I guess I needed that. Again.
PO: Don’t be stupid, young man. I don’t like hitting you, but sometimes you leave me no choice. Now, where were we?
KC: Uh… let’s talk about gun rights now, OK?
PO: Very well. Compose your thoughts for a few moments while we walk together.
And so they continued to walk in silence for a long time.
< to be continued …>