Rights and privileges
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 02:01
Rights can’t be taken away from us, privileges can. Groups like Basic Rights Oregon and the National Organization for Women fight for “gay rights,” “women’s rights,” or rights for any other group that feels slighted by the government. But if we believe rights come from the government, we are wrong. The government shouldn’t grant us rights, they can, only grant privileges.
An overarching authority doesn’t give us our rights. We are born with the rights of life and liberty, and the U.S. Constitution throws in pursuit of happiness. I am free because I say so; we are all free because we say so. If I demand someone work for me, I have taken his or her right to life and liberty. I can’t take those rights from them though, and neither can the government.
When activist groups fight for the “rights” they’re denied, they don’t target the source — the government. Government tries to restrict each group, one at a time. New York has a size limit for soda, restricting consumers from buying more than 16 oz. Drugs are illegal even though ingesting a drug into one’s own body does not harm anyone else. The government doesn’t allow same-sex marriages in many states. The hungry, drug users and same-sex couples are just a few of the groups the government restricts.
Years ago, people got married because they wanted to. Now there are marriage licenses, tax incentives or disadvantages, and constant regulation from the government. The government says two people are married, because two people can’t legally do it on their own.
Privileges shouldn’t, but can be taken away at any moment. Computers, phones, pencils, cars and other material possessions we own are privileges. I don’t mean someone gets to decide what we all own or get to own, but that we can all still have life and liberty without them. If the government controls what privileges I can own then I’m not free.
The government controls our lives in many places, like marriage, business, property and taxes. Maryland, Indiana and Washington don’t allow phosphorus in soaps and detergents fearing it might hurt the environment. This ban on phosphorus in detergents started in 1970 and has grown to include 17 states.
Companies like Proctor and Gamble simply stopped producing detergents with phosphorus for some states, but keep it in their detergent for others. Susan Baba, from Proctor and Gamble, said the following in a December 2010 interview with NPR, “You know, this isn’t really a huge environmental win.”
If companies found removing phosphorus from detergents important to their customer base, they would’ve made that change years ago. However, Phosphorus is the chemical in detergents that does the cleaning. Try washing clothes or dishes without the phosphorus powder mixed into the soap, and then try it again with the phosphorus. Phosphorus makes everything cleaner.
Along with banning phosphorus, the government recently banned plastic bags in Corvallis. The government really made a great decision on that one. Jonathan Klick and Joshua D. Wright, from University of Pennsylvania Law School and George Mason School of Law respectively, studied counties with and without plastic bag bans.
The study saw increases in emergency room visits in counties with the ban compared to neighboring counties without the ban. The increased ER visits and risk for illness stem from the reusable bags. Leaking juices from various foods sit in the bags trip after trip to the store and pile up. The cross contamination of fluids in the bags can lead to foodborne illness, among other problems.
Reason Magazine and Business Week reported on the study, suggesting washing reusable bags — I endorse that idea as well.
But hold on just one second, didn’t the government ban phosphorus in soaps and detergents? Exactly.
Yes, plastic and reusable bags are material things, or privileges as defined previously, because we could all survive without them. The government, however, shouldn’t get to make the decision of whether we use them.
Businesses have their liberty taken away when the government tells them they can’t use plastic anymore. My liberty as a consumer is taken away if I want to use plastic. The government revokes choice and liberty when it tries to restrict what privileges we can have
Plastic bags don’t hurt people and shouldn’t be banned. For those who say it’s an environmental issue, there is no such thing. Environmental issues are property rights issues. If someone owned the ocean where the BP oil spill took place, they could’ve sued BP. But without an owner, BP doesn’t have incentives beyond profit and society’s perception to ensure spills don’t happen.
Environmental issues don’t exist, and therefore cannot be the basis for legislation. In fact, no act, good or bad, calls for legal action, unless a person’s rights have been violated. Marriage, phosphorus in soap and plastic bags don’t violate anyone’s rights. However, when the government regulates these products, they are violating the rights of the people.
If you want to protest for equality, don’t demand that someone else’s rights be taken away. Demand that you get yours back from the government. If the government has taken some rights, who’s to say they won’t take the rest.
Drew Pells is a senior in business administration. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Pells can be reached at email@example.com.