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The Second Bill of Rights

Penn Gillette, Libertarian showman, mentioned that FDR had proclaimed a second bill of rights. I had not heard of this, but since FDR was the prequel to Obama I thought it was worth a look see. While not officially adopted, you can see echos of this speech through the 60 years or so since its broadcast in 1944.

Wikipedia has the full text of the speech, but here is the pertinent parts.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

He closes the speech with.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

On the surface this sounds perfectly reasonable. Folks should be able to have a job, make a decent living and afford a home. Then think about the word rights. A right is something that comes without being earned. Should I be able to afford a home if my career ambition is sitting on the couch eating cheese doodles? Then there the fact that these "RIGHTS" leave so much room for government intrusion and abuse that even contemplating it will give you the willies.

Lets start from a basic premise. Government should not be creating money out of thin air. Disregard the fact that they can, and do, most of the government funds in 1944 when this speech was aired came from the labor and sweat of the citizens of the US. All 8 points above have hefty price-tags attached. Where does the money come from?

The right to a useful and remunerative job. Jobs as a right is a way of thinking which discourages merit based advancement and hiring practices. It discourages people from doing anything but the bare minimum to get by because they have a "Right" to their job. This attitude has become pervasive and has hurt businesses which now have a tough time firing someone.

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; Minimum wage anyone?

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; This basically means two things. Price fixing and subsidies. If this was around during the 1800's the cotton gin would have be chucked in the waste heap. Unfortunately both price fixing and subsidies have become so entrenched in our culture they aren't even discussed anymore.

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; This should have been stated, government will actively force businesses to behave in non competitive fashions. Of course in a global market where we play by this rule but no one else does (and even more laughably we protect foreign interests as well) we see our large corporations crushed by overseas competitors. I am primarily thinking of the decline and death of the US Steel Industry here. Most steel, even for military applications, now comes from China.

The right of every family to a decent home. This same sentiment lead to the sub prime mortgage crisis and the creation of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac (who now own 60% of the mortgages in the country). Even FDR did not use the word house, and would probably have preferred the luxury accommodations of soviet block housing to the idea that the government should buy actual homes for people.

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; This has led to medicare, medicaid (both underfunded and ticking financial timebombs) and the soon to be released Obamacare which no one can quite figure out how to pay for even with the current low estimates.

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; Medicare (Underfunded), Social Security (Underfunded), Unemployment Insurance (Also underfunded). Not sure about the accident part. Of course this could explain the strong resistance to tort reform, and OSHA.

The right to a good education. Objectively define the term good in this statement. How do you know someone has a good education? OK now remove or dumb down the testing aspects from that premise and now how do you tell? If the testing is in place and the students are failing how do you change the system without denying bad teachers their right to a job?

The last line of the speech implies that the US (who at the time was kicking ass and taking names around the entire globe) was somehow backwards because we did not have these rights in place. This line is important because it exemplifies the lack of self confidence as a nation our political leaders feel even to this day. We have a better track record on human rights than most of the world, but we still let the dictate to us as if we were a young child still learning our way in the world.