What Does Free Mean?


People often advocate that a good or service ought to be available for free. Most commonly, it is argued that there should be free education or it is imperative that healthcare is provided for free. The justification for why something ought to be free usually relies on the claim that said good or service is a human right. If a good or service is viewed as a right, it must be provided for free in order to avoid violating the rights of people who would otherwise not have access to it. The idea of making services such as healthcare and education a right and mandating that they should be free sounds wonderful on the surface and I am sure is done with the best intentions, but when one looks deeper into the consequences of such ideas it is found that mandating anything to be free has undesirable outcomes. Additionally, claiming goods or services to be a right is a perversion of the word and inherently causes contradictions.

When it is advocated that a service such as healthcare should be free, what does that mean? The only way healthcare could be provided at no direct cost to the person receiving treatment is if the doctor receives no compensation for their work or if the doctor’s work is subsidized and paid for through means other than compensation from the consumer. Of course in the latter situation healthcare is not free, it is just paid for through an indirect source, so I will first address the former scenario.

The state is almost always used as a means by the people advocating for something to be free. This is because most people are not willing to provide a good or service without receiving any compensation, which is a reasonable expectation — especially since being compensated is the main motivation for most people to work in the first place. In order to make healthcare free, the state must force the doctor to provide his services free of charge. But this goes beyond just the doctor; it would also require that the nurses and other professionals who work in the day to day operations of providing healthcare to do their job free of charge as well. What is it called when someone is forced to do work free of charge? Most people would say that’s the definition of slavery. Of course the advocates of free healthcare would never say they support slavery, but when one advocates that a service is a human right and must be provided for free and then uses the state as a means to enforce this right, they are indeed supporting forced labor, which is a massive violation of human rights and a form of slavery.

I assume that most people who believe in the idea that healthcare should be free would not support forced labor, so let’s evaluate the other scenario in which it is advocated that healthcare ought to be free. Advocates of free healthcare often say it should be paid for or provided by the government. But what is or who is the government? The government is us. Everything that a government has is taken from citizens and anything provided by the government is provided by citizens. Government provided healthcare is not provided by the government, it is provided by doctors who work for the government. In turn, government employed doctors are not paid by a magical entity called government, they are paid by taxpayers who fund the government. In reality there is no such thing as healthcare provided by government, it is simply doctors subsidized by the majority of citizens to treat all citizens, which is of course not free. So in this situation, to support “free” healthcare basically just means forcing a sector of the population to pay for the healthcare of the whole population. What is it called when money is forcefully taken from some people in order to finance the expense of others? Most people would call that theft, but once you claim healthcare to be a right for everyone to have, nobody really cares about the immoral means in which it would have to be funded. Once again, I doubt the supporters of free healthcare would advocate theft, but when they say it should be paid for by government that is essentially what they are doing.

Now I will address the claim of healthcare being a right, which is the main justification for why it must be free in the first place. Attributing rights to a good or service such as a right to water or a right to healthcare is referred to as positive rights.  Attributing rights to civil liberties and freedoms such as a right to free speech, privacy or property are referred to as negative rights. Rights are and must be absolute. For example, the United States was founded on the belief that everyone had an inalienable right to their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. These are all negative rights men are born with and no outside force is needed to grant men these rights. No founding father ever proposed that an individual should have a right to the labor or property of another person. Instead, rights are meant to insure that men are able to keep their property and have their liberty protected. It is not possible to enforce a positive right, such as healthcare, without violating the inalienable negative rights men are born with and are protected under the U.S. constitution. Thus there should be no legitimate claim to positive rights.

Demanding that anything should be free is done with the best of intentions. I would love to live in a world in which everyone had access to healthcare and education, among other things. However, advocating that anything must be free inherently supports that the rights of some must be violated for the benefit of everyone. People who are normally quick to say forced labor and theft are immoral will without hesitation advocate policy that requires forced labor or theft because they fail to look at the consequences of what is being advocated. It is imperative that everyone is critical of an idea before supporting it. In this case people will blindly support a policy of free healthcare because it does sound good and on the surface only a heartless person would refuse to support having free healthcare for everyone. Unfortunately, free healthcare could only be achieved through immoral means that violate the rights of others, making it a very dangerous policy to support. Everyone should be critical of public policy, no matter how well intentioned it is and one must be able to justify the means of how to enforce the policy in order to advocate on its behalf.

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2 thoughts on “What Does Free Mean?

  1. Nicely done. Positive rights can be enforced provided both parties agreed to the terms up front. If I paid for insurance coverage and submit a legitimate claim per our agreement, I now have rights to payment or compensation.

    • Yes it was a mistake to say all positive rights are not legitimate. A right to a trial could be argued as another example of one.

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