Senator Bernie Sanders, gamely making the case for socialism on CNN, offers a familiar argument: that access to health care and other goods like it should be understood as a “right.”
Properly understood, that claim is literally nonsensical, having the grammatical form of a sentence but no meaningful content, inasmuch as it is logically meaningless to declare a right in a scarce good. (I am using scarce here in its economic sense rather than in its common conversational sense.) For example: If you have twelve children and six cupcakes, the possibilities of division remain the same even if you declare that every child has the “right” to an entire cupcake of his own. Goods are physical, while rights are metaphysical, and the actual facts of the real world are not transformed by our deciding to talk about them in a different way. Other declarations in the same form — “Health care is quintessentially axiomatic,” “Health care is candy-apple gray,” “Health care is a spastically cloistered bottle of courageous smoke,” etc. — would be equally meaningless as sentences.
“Health care is a right” is a sentence that fools some people into thinking that it means something because the synthetic impression of moral urgency that accompanies the declaration of “a right” overwhelms the ordinary logical faculty, which in many people is less developed than the emotional endowment, that widespread condition being the principal defect in democracy. When a politician declares a “right” in a scarce good, it indicates either that he is a simpleton or that he believes you to be, and one’s as good as the other, that being another defect in democracy.