If you’re not fully clear on the difference between negative and positive rights, Justin Moore of The Northwestern Chronicle provides an outstanding explanation below.

I’m guessing Mr. Moore did not vote for Obama.

Rights in a Free Society

The word ‘right’ is tossed around these days with little concern for its meaning. What is a ‘right’ and which rights should individuals be granted? Most people, from the average Joe to politicians in Washington, cannot answer this question in a non-contradictory manner. Such an important topic merits a full understanding by everyone.

At a philosophical level, there are two types of rights that individuals may possess: positive rights and negative rights. Both of these types of rights exist in present-day America, but there is a fundamental difference between the two. Positive rights and negative rights are not rights that are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, respectively. Rather, positive rights typically involve the right to something provided by someone else. Negative rights are characterized by the right to act without interference or coercion from others.

Some examples will help to clarify:

Suppose you graduate from Northwestern, land your first job, and decide to purchase a car. The car dealership you choose to visit is a bit out of your price-range–only Porsches are sold here. You cannot afford a Porsche and, consequently, the dealership does not want to sell you one of their cars. Suppose, though, that a few days earlier the federal government passed a law granting the right to a Porsche to all American citizens. Because of this new law, the dealership must give you a car, regardless of your ability to pay for it (lucky you). This is an example of a positive right–your ‘right’ to a Porsche requires the dealership to give you one.

A different scenario: you want to buy a Porsche and this time have the money to do so. You head over to the dealership and sign a contract for the purchase. As you are about to be given the keys for your slick new car, a cop walks in and tells you to stop the transaction. Apparently, a law has just been passed making it illegal to purchase luxury goods. Though you want to buy the Porsche and the dealership wants to sell it to you, the transaction is not allowed. The government has just restricted one of your negative rights–the right to engage in peaceful transactions with others without interference.

Other examples of positive rights include the ‘right’ to healthcare, the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to birth control, and the ‘right’ to welfare. Note that each of these ‘rights’ force someone else to pay for you to have a good or a service, assuming you cannot pay for it yourself.

For a few examples of negative rights, simply look to the Declaration of Independence and the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights only require that others do not harm or otherwise coerce you….

The biggest issues that America is facing today–out of control growth of government, exploding debt levels, and massive unfunded liabilities in the form of Medicare and Social Security–are a direct result of positive rights being granted by the government. The only long-term solution to these problems starts with a reexamination of the rights of individuals required for a free and prosperous society.