What is a right? There are two types of rights: negative and positive. Negative rights are also known as Natural rights whereas positive rights are those conferred by decree (Fiat rights). Negative rights transcend time and place. They exist always and everywhere. Negative rights are “negative” because they may be secured as a result of NO action on the part of anyone else. For example, we have a right to our life, or stated conversely, we have the right to not be murdered. For us to not be murdered requires only the inaction of others. We have the right to affirm a property right in those things we have justly homesteaded, exchanged, or been gifted. Inaction of others ensures these property rights will never be violated. We have a right to speech. This means we may speak our mind publicly and not be forcefully silenced; but, it does not (and never has been interpreted to) mean we must be provided a means by which we can disseminate that speech. Similarly, our right to life does not imply we must be provided with the tools necessary to maintain that life. If it were a right to be provided with such tools, then logically someone must provide them to us. Someone would have to positively perform an action.

So, we can see where positive rights get their name. Positive rights are those rights that by their nature require that someone else DO something to provide that right. If healthcare were made a right by decree (fiat), then this would mean that it MUST be provided to all. The problem with positive rights is what do we do if no one (or nearly no one) wishes to provide this right? If it is a “right” then it must be provided, and if it must be provided then the government must through force or coercion compel someone to provide this right. The coercion may be direct (i.e. the state dictates what your profession will be) or indirect (i.e. the state takes money from one group against their will to give to another group in order that they may obtain their “right”). Some may see this as “ok” because collectively, we, as society might be better off (e.g. the concept that “healthy Americans benefit the country”).

Justifications based on a “greater good” are inherently dangerous. With consequentialism  as our moral compass, there is literally nothing proscribing even the most venal acts, as long as it is believed on balance a majority will benefit. If society benefits, then we may establish laws that require people to be licensed before they can have children (so that the state can ensure they are “ideal” parents) or that dictate how many children we can have… or perhaps that sterilize those with undesirable genetic traits (they simply lead to higher health care costs, and anything that lowers health costs is good for society, right?). Some might say such things could never happen here, in America, in this modern age. How blind they are. We are surrounded by such violations: from licensing laws that necessitate we kiss the ring of our master in order to be permitted the privilege of gainful employment or taxes that rob some of 50% or more of their income. Every single law on the books is grounded in some justification of protecting Group A at the expense of members of Group B.

Positive rights are a creature of the state. They can exist only where a coercive government is extant. The first step in recognizing the illegitimacy of the state is understanding the legitimacy of the negative rights.