On Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders took to Twitter to deliver one of his usual messages. “People go to the doctor because they’re sick, get a diagnosis from their doctor, but they can’t afford the treatment,” he wrote. “How crazy is that!”
I responded snarkily, “I go to a fancy store to check out a piece of furniture, can’t afford it. That’s totally crazy!”
This prompted spasms of apoplexy on the left. How could I dare to compare medical care to furniture? Was I equating the value of the two? Was I suggesting that the necessity of furniture was somehow comparable to the necessity of medical care?
Of course not. That would be idiotic. I was pointing out that medical care is a commodity, and that in life, we are often faced with commodities we cannot afford. But this mere observation caused a ruckus on the left. “Necessities don’t compare to luxuries!” said one angry tweeter. “Bless characters like Ben Shapiro for demonstrating the complete soullessness of capitalist ideology,” tweeted another.
The idea here seems to be that unless you declare medical care a right rather than a commodity, you are soulless — that as Marx might put it, necessity, rather than autonomy, creates rights.
This is foolhardy, both morally and practically.
Morally, you have no right to demand medical care of me. I may recognize your necessity and offer charity; my friends and I may choose to band together and fund your medical care. But your necessity does not change the basic math: Medical care is a service and a good provided by a third party. No matter how much I need bread, I do not have a right to steal your wallet or hold up the local bakery to obtain it. Theft may end up being my least immoral choice under the circumstances, but that does not make it a moral choice, or suggest that I have not violated your rights in pursuing my own needs.
But the left believes that declaring necessities rights somehow overcomes the individual rights of others.