Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sacrifice Today, or Sacrifice Tomorrow

Several weeks ago I wrote about an OpEd in the Chronicle that chastised HISD for the food it is serving at the district's schools. The author of that article--Bettina Elias Siegel--has responded to my post on her own blog. She makes an argument in her response that is worthy of additional comment.

In her OpEd, Siegel had criticized the fact that children receiving free lunches would not have the same choices as those paying for their meals. I wrote:
Siegel, who has two children in HISD, isn't content that better dietary choices will be available. That such choices won't be available to children being fed by taxpayers is wrong. Why should those paying for their own lunch have a choice that is denied to those who aren't?
Siegel responded on her blog:
Your attitude seems to be, “if you’re eating at taxpayers’ expense, you’ll take what we dish out and no complaining.”  That’s a pretty harsh world view.  Are lower income students somehow inherently less entitled to nutritious food choices by virtue of their economic status?
Siegel implies that those who pay for their own lunch are receiving an entitlement that will be denied to those receiving free lunches. But this is a gross equivocation and a misrepresentation of my position.

Nobody is entitled to nutritious food, if by "entitlement" we mean "possessing a right." Rights pertain to freedom of action; they provide a sanction to act according to one's own judgment without interference from others, so long as the mutual rights of others are respected. Everyone has a right to purchase nutritious food, if someone wishes to sell it to them and they can pay for it. Nobody has a right to force others to provide that food.

Siegel goes on to write:

But since my bleeding-heart liberal appeals are likely to be lost on you, I’ll instead appeal your pragmatism:  More than 35 percent of Texas schoolchildren are overweight or obese.  That number has doubled over the last 20 years, and it continues to rise. Studies show that overweight children miss three or four times as much school as children who are not overweight. Furthermore, a child who is obese by age 12 has more than a 75 percent chance of becoming an obese adult, at risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, asthma and certain cancers. It has been estimated that the healthcare costs associated with such diseases will total $344 billion in 2018, or more than one in five dollars spent on health care.  Whether you like it or not, Mr. Phillips, you and I are both going to be paying those costs on the back end unless present trends can be reversed.
Siegel is right when she assumes that her altruistic appeals will not sway me. But what does she offer as an alternative? More altruism. Refusing to question the premise that one man's need is a claim on the life and property of others, she proceeds to argue that I have a choice--sacrifice for others today or sacrifice for others tomorrow.

But I reject the entire premise that the needs of others are a claim on me. I do not regard self-sacrifice as a virtue. I regard each individual as a sovereign being who possesses a moral right to act according to his own judgment to further his own life and pursue his own happiness. No individual and no group has a right to initiate force against others, no matter how dire the circumstances. That applies to food today and health care tomorrow.


Bettina Siegel said...

I'll post your reply on The Lunch Tray today.


Bettina Siegel

Brian Phillips said...

The Lunch Tray blog is here

Josh P. said...

Brian, you seem to be so intent on jumping on the "libertarian" bandwagon (the latest fad) and posting John Galt quotes (or at least ones that could be) that you're entirely missing the point. Your premise is that impoverished public school children have some sort of choice that they can make with regards to their ability to purchase healthier food and this simply isn't the case. No matter how much you quote libertarian screed, there are situations when they just don't hold--and this is one of them. Take it to the extreme (and we're not far from it). Let's say that kids who can't pay more get twinkies and those with means can buy nutritious meals. Is the answer "tough luck, poor kids" or does society have some responsibility to them? If your answer is, effectively, "no because libertarians rule" then treat that question as rhetorical.

Brian Phillips said...

First, I am not a libertarian. I am an advocate of capitalism and have been for more than 25 years, so it is not a fad for me.

Second, why am I responsible for the children of others? Why should I have my money taken from me by force so that others may eat nutritious food? The only "justification" ever offered is altruism--that I have a moral duty to serve the needs of others.

Each individual has a moral right to pursue his own happiness without interference from others. To believe otherwise is to declare that human beings are sacrificial animals whose sole purpose is to satisfy the needs and desires of others. I reject that view.

Anonymous said...

"Capitalism". Hmmm? A lot like Communism, a great idea in theory but neither of them have anything to do with the reality of human greed, which is why neither of them work. Eat your vegetables fool!

Brian Phillips said...

How do you judge an idea to be good in theory? An idea that is good in theory will work in practice.

Capitalism has never existed in the sense that I advocate--a complete separation of state and economics.

You call communism good in theory. Does this mean that you believe that the murder of millions is good, since this is what communism has led to?

I love vegetables. I shouldn't be forced to pay for them so that others can eat them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,

Taking your arguements to the logical extreme, should cocains and heroin be legalised? Because, after you, you seem to state that man has no business interfering with the affairs of others.

Your stories (although very articulate and well-written) remind me a lot of the justification that mine-owners in England in the 1800's used to try and justify pregnant women working in the mines. Or do you think employment protection for vulnerable groups should be disbanded as well - do you want an end to all minimum wages/social security/minimum working age regulations; bringing the average America worker back to Depression-era poverty?

(And please don't say scrapping regulation would lead to a more competitive market - when was the last time you say a company lower prices as a result of a decrease in Gov. regulation? - this certainly hasn't happened either with telephone or electricity companies)

Brian Phillips said...

Yes, heroin and cocaine should be legal. Who owns your body? You or the government?

Each individual has a moral right to act as he chooses, so long as he does not use force or fraud against others. If a pregnant woman wants to work in a mine, and the mine owner wants to hire her, why is that any business of the government?

You cite the poverty of the Depression, while ignoring the fact that it was government policies that created, and then made worse, the Depression. If you study history, you will learn that the Federal Reserve was formed specifically to eliminate such things. It didn't do a very good job.

You cite telephones and electricity as examples of deregulation. Yet both are heavily regulated. I advocate for the complete repeal of all regulations. That has not happened in a single industry.