Violations of Human Rights

Did you know that the United Nations has found Detroit in violation of internationally recognized human rights? Specifically, the right to water.
“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying," said Catarina de Albuquerque, who is the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

"In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections."
That's an interesting claim, probably incompatible with the American understanding of rights. It's philosophically defensible, though, if you believe -- as one long tradition does -- that rights come from specific human needs. According to this tradition, if a thing is truly necessary for human beings to exist (like water), or truly necessary to develop their basic capacities (like education), such a being a right to it.

A right to be provided with something you don't pay for, though? Who then must pay for it, and how do you guarantee that there will be enough of it if paying for it is not required? That's the conundrum behind the American concept, whereby your only (mostly) unlimited rights are rights to be left alone -- freedom to choose to practice your own religion, say. Even these rights, which require nothing from anyone else, are subject to practical limits. Even this morning we're waiting to see how unlimited that freedom is. The "Hobby Lobby" ruling is due today.

Still, it's interesting to see Detroit of all places hoisted on the UN's petard. It was the core of what Dr. Mead calls "Blue Model" Liberalism during the 20th century, the same sort of Liberalism that produced the UN and its structures.

UPDATE: Of course, health care is a human right, too.


MikeD said...

Nothing that requires life, property, or liberty from another can be a right. If it takes someone else's labor (education, medical services, etc) then you do not have a right to it. Otherwise you are implying that the person providing that service has no choice but to provide the service, making them your slave. If it takes someone else's property (a car, a house, a horse, etc) then it is not a right. Otherwise you're claiming the right to deprive them of something they own to fulfill your own desires. And finally, if something requires the taking of someone else's life (organ transplant being the only real example I can imagine), then it is not a right. You cannot take someone's life from them to satisfy your desires.

Thus do I reject the notion that education, water, electricity, medical care, or any of these other "rights" are anything other than attempts to grasp freedom or property from another.

Grim said...

That's what I meant when I said it was probably incompatible with the American idea. Of course, by calling that the "American idea of rights," I'm painting Detroit and it's Blue model as un-American -- which is, as I think of it, really unfair. The UN and its structures aren't just Blue, they're creations of the American Federal government more than anything else.

So the only way to talk about this other model as the "American idea" is to paint the American Federal government for the last 70 years as un-American.

MikeD said...

Any "tradition" that holds that you have a right to something that requires my life, liberty, or property to be sacrificed to enhance your own is not a "tradition" worth keeping.

I am reminded of a quote on the sidebar of our dear friend Lex's blog. When faced with such a "tradition", Charles James Napier had an excellent answer:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

Grim said...

That's all well and good if you're in Napier's position. But the Federal Government is in Napier's position. Their customs are the ones that will be enforced.

MikeD said...

Funny, and here I thought the Federal government was a Representative Republic, and not a autocrat. It's "customs", such as they are, are (supposedly) what we tell them they are.

Grim said...

Well, is that how you think it's worked out these last few decades? Let's take your understanding of a right: the SCOTUS just said that you can't demand a "right" to free contraception for women paid for by religious dissenters. But you otherwise can require such free contraception be provided to the women; and even in these cases of religious dissenters, you can still make somebody pay for it. Taxpayers, say.

Joseph W. said...

"Rights" don't run out when other people's money does...

Grim said...

But the money never runs out, Joe. That's what we've learned about 'fiat currency' from this same faction: you just print more if you need more.

So that's a fantasy problem. Sub-economic thinking. :)

Ymar Sakar said...

Human rights are for humans. No proof has been presented that the UN is made of humans, not zombies and child rapists.

Ymar Sakar said...

Grim, not only do they print more money, an invisible Flat tax on everyone poor or rich except the currency traders, but they also print people.

Mexicans brought in, used as sex slaves and workers for Witch PillowC's vineyards, so they can produce work and slaves. Work, slaves, money, the Leftist utopia.

The Romans called them latifundia.

Joseph W. said...

Mrs. Thatcher, I am quite sure, knew how to look behind "the monetary veil" (as did every good classical economist). But a good epigram shouldn't be spoiled by taking it too literally.

Grim said...

I don't actually think it's a fantasy problem at all. I think the fiat currency advocates are the ones involved in fantasies. You can't increase the supply of anything without decreasing its value, currency or otherwise. They treat it like a problem in mathematics where there's a limit you approach on a reliable curve, but what really happens is that past a certain point there's a sudden collapse in faith in the value of the money -- especially that it will hold value.

So of course you can run out of money, even though you can in theory print more. I can print script at my desk, but no one would accept it for anything.

Ymar Sakar said...

As for Detroit, my intel sources suggest the Left's top tier robber barons have mostly abandoned that city to anarchy.

Private security is doing a better job than the Detroit police, at securing businesses, economy, and neighborhood security, at a pittance of the cost.

Soon America will look like a wasteland, just like Detroit. Won't even take a nuclear fallout war.

Joseph W. said...

So of course you can run out of money, even though you can in theory print more. I can print script at my desk, but no one would accept it for anything.

No doubt. But when Mrs. Thatcher referred to "running out of other people's money" -- which I know you recognized as what I was referring to -- she wasn't really referring to a monetary problem at all; the "money" serving as a shorthand to make the saying pithy and memorable. (My own formulation - "The problem with socialism is that you can't get rich by picking each other's pockets" - isn't really about pockets, either.)

Beyond that I agree with you completely - it's all too easy to forget what happens when you forget to figure "expectations" into your economic thinking.

MikeD said...

I'll jump back in here. The whole "fiat" currency thing is a confidence scam. But then again, so is every other form of currency. Let's take gold for example. Long held as the "gold standard" (a phrase whose very existence hearkens to the esteem in which people hold this metal) of "hard" currencies.

But how "hard" is a gold backed currency? The answer is, no more than fiat currency. "But Mike," you exclaim, "that's untrue! It's bound to the supply of gold, you can't just whip up more gold out of thin air!" Too true, but what is that gold worth? Ah, now we come to the root of the matter. What is anything worth. And the answer is the same for gold, for oil, for wheat, for a new car, for anything, yes... including fiat currency. Anything is worth whatever someone else will give you for it. Period. That is what "worth" is.

Having a currency based on gold is all well and good, but how much gold does that dollar (or pound, or lira, or Krugerrand) actually represent? An ounce? A milligram? Well, if we assume it's set to a fixed amount (let's just use an ounce to keep things simple). In theory (and in practice once upon a time) you could take your dollar to a federal bank and trade it in for its value in gold. But why, prior to FDR taking us off the gold standard, did the dollar lose value over time? A dollar in 1920 was worth significantly less than it was in 1880, and that was worth less than it was in 1840, and so on. But why? Weren't we on the gold standard? Yes. But what someone would give you for the amount of gold a dollar represented was less in 1920 than it was in 1880, and so on. Partly because the gold supply increased thanks to the gold rushes in California and the Yukon, and also because wealth in general increased over that time period. The increased supply of money reduced (somewhat) the demand, but definitely the value. Regardless of what the currency was tied to.

If I handed you a troy ounce of gold, and sent you into the local supermarket, do you think you'd be able to get $1,326.00 (the current price of a troy ounce of gold) of groceries? No. They'd turn you away, OR someone would offer to buy groceries for you in exchange for the gold. But if you get near $1,326.00 worth of groceries, I'd be highly surprised (or you found a sucker). Why? Because the average person on the street has no idea what the exact value of gold IS. I had to look it up, myself. But it is irrelevant what the market price is, or what a numismatist would give you for it... a troy ounce of gold is worth whatever someone will give you for it. And that's it. No different than your fiat currency.

Ymar Sakar said...

In the wasteland, often barters don't have enough cash or metal currency to exchange for goods, so they trade it using a barter system, service for service.

Thus having a lot of currency and gold, generally doesn't equal buying power in a market that is unable to sustain that amount of currency transaction.

A fiat currency is significantly different from a precious metal based currency, because while people can shave off coins and put taxes on money exchanges like the money changers Jesus Christ chased out for fraud, it's a very small time operation. A fiat currency allows a centralized aristocracy to induce hyper inflation and transfer a huge amount of wealth, so it is a form of insider trading like Chris Dodds on the housing crisis. They create the crisis, they predict the crisis, they present the solution, they get rich, everyone else gets broke like Enron.

The idea of trading gold for higher value in Europe vs the Aztec markets is merely a thing called trading. And it's not a confidence scheme. People do not truly understand confidence schemes of the ultra wealthy.

Joseph W. said...

MikeD, not so. There are some very large differences between gold and fiat currency:

#1, gold really does have some "value in use" (classical economic term)...traditionally, as jewelry, nowadays, industrial uses as well. In fact its use as money probably came in part from the fact that a little of it (for use as jewelry) freely exchanged for a lot of other stuff...meaning that it was easy to handle as money, in the way that a cartload of farm products would not be. (Its other advantages have often been catalogued - easy to subdivide, very slow to corrode, easy to test for, etc.)

In other words, contra More's Utopia, a preference for gold as a medium of exchange is not an arbitrary choice at all.

#2, people have often freely chosen gold as a medium of exchange; no government has to force them to do it with "legal tender" laws. In this country, if you want the courts to enforce a legal obligation...unless it's an equitable "specific performance" are going to have to accept U.S. dollars even if you'd prefer bitcoins or silver bullion.

#3, Government can't make gold out of nothing. That's huge. You might get a fluctuation based on this year's mining, but you won't get a Weimar inflation out of it.

Right now you can't walk into a store in this country and spend precious metals - or even silver certificates - because the government insists on making its accounting (for tax and contract enforcement) in the medium it controls. But go back far enough and a "dollar," "pound," or "sovereign" was defined as a certain weight of precious fact, the U.S. used to issue "silver certificates" (I've seen them; they look a lot like bills and could be spent as such), which included a promise that you could redeem them for (say) "one dollar in silver." (In fact, I've read that even ordinary bills used to say the treasury "will promise to pay" x dollars...a relic of the time when you could get the metal, not just more banknotes, in exchange for the notes).

So there's nothing inherently impractical in trading in precious's an artifact of our current laws, not a problem with gold and silver per se.

(The Constitution, interestingly, denies the States the right to make anything but gold and silver legal tender...because the Framers well understood the dangers of letting the State control the money supply. They kept that danger to the central government alone.)

MikeD said...

#1 - gold really does have some "value in use"
Very little does not. Paper currency perhaps has little value in use, but that's been true since before we were on the gold standard. In fact, to this day, that's true for any paper currency. But my point still stands, gold is and always was worth what someone else would give you for it. From a sheer practical standpoint, neither you nor I need gold in our day to day lives. Electronics need a LOT more copper, silicon, nickle, zinc, and other metals than they do gold. And while it may be pretty to look at, aesthetic value is a luxury of a wealthy society. If things hit the fan as bad as people who predict a collapse of fiat currency portend, then gold won't be worth nearly as much as food, fuel, or medical supplies.

#2, people have often freely chosen gold as a medium of exchange
People most often (before the practice of minting) chose barter as a medium of exchange. Currency just gave us a neutral use medium to trade my labor for yours. Governments chose gold (or silver) for the minting of coins, because it was relatively rare, easily minted, and harder to counterfeit. People will use whatever medium of exchange is convenient and generally accepted. Mark my words, the day when cash will not be accepted at an establishment isn't all that far off (for "security reasons").

#3, Government can't make gold out of nothing.
They can't make anything out of nothing. Might as well say we should be on the oil standard, or the copper standard, or any other physical material standard. In fact, these days gasoline probably has a broader value in use than gold. Everyone (just about) has an immediate need for fuel. Very few have an immediate need for gold.

But once again, the underlying point is that something is only ever worth what someone else will give you for it. If we're on a desert isle, and I have food and you have gold, you can bet your backside the food has a hell of a lot more value than gold. Ice is worthless in the arctic, but valuable as hell in the Sahara. Basing your currency on gold is fine. But don't be under the illusion that it makes the currency "safer" than anything else. If people decide they don't need your gold, then your currency is devalued.

Mind you, I can absolutely make the case that gold has one VERY important advantage over almost every other currency backing, and that is the psychological advantage that the perception "gold is valuable" brings to the table. As I said, currency holds value as long as someone thinks it holds value. If they don't, it doesn't. But people now have a deeply rooted belief in the value of gold (a couple of centuries of reinforcement will do that). Basing your currency on gold gives an advantage in the psychological game of currency.