Realistic Communism

Positive Rights

Positive rights are rights to have something provided to you. Typically these are the right to food, the right to housing, the right to healthcare, and sometimes the right to an education. More abstract examples are the right to have other people follow through with their contracts, the right to get a copy of government information, and the right to have other people delete information about you. The essential point is that fulfillment of the rights requires forcing someone else to do something for you. To have the right to food when you don’t grow any, you must force someone else to grow extra. To have the right to government information, you must force a clerk to provide it to you.

Negative rights on the other hand are rights to prevent something being done to you. Common examples of negative rights are the right to not have private physical force used against you, the right to freedom of religion, and the right to privacy. In capitalist countries, negative rights include the right to literally own property and the right to work any job you choose to. Historically a few countries provided the negative right of freedom of speech as well, but essentially the US is the only country that still provides this right in the classical sense. In each case, these rights require nothing from others but…nothing. If everyone else just left you alone, these rights would never be violated.

The “issue” at hand here is that people feel differently about forcing people to do things and forcing them not to do things. People may not want to do extra work to feed and house you if you do nothing for them. Some accuse positive rights of essentially being slavery. Yet many people are fine with requiring people to not hit you no matter how much they want to. Even those that disagree with that rule do so because they believe private physical violence is a critical meditating force against verbal assault, not because of any moral opposition to requiring someone to not do something he wants to.

Yet positive rights are still promulgated through our world. The UN itself, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says that all nations should guarantee numerous positive rights:

Article 25

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.


Capitalists have primarily attempted to guarantee these rights through either cash welfare or by purchasing the required products through the free market. Aside from the general problems with capitalism, this has the unfortunate effect of inflating the prices of these core goods, making living more expensive and difficult for everyone who could otherwise afford it. It ensures the demand is there, but the supply is only increased by an increased cost. As the scope of positive rights increases, this leads to more and more people becoming unable to afford the new necessities and requiring the government to provide them. In a sense, this is a very real step towards socialism, but it is still operating in a capitalist system.

Price controls are a populist response to the effects of this market interference. They attempt provide an economical method of ensuring goods and services are affordable. If someone can’t charge you more than you can afford, then everything would be affordable, right? The problem is that you can’t force anyone to do something economically. Capitalists would just quit the profession if it stopped being profitable and invest their time and capital in something else. Ultimately, price controls only lead to shortages of goods and services, and make them less widely available than they would otherwise be under a freer market.

The unpopular truth is that the only way to force people to produce goods and provide services is…to force them to. As the government uses its monopoly on violence to prevent people from infringing people’s negative rights, it must use its monopoly on violence to force people to fulfill others’ positive rights. Unless people have a motive to do something, they won’t. If profit is removed as a motive, the government must motivate people. This can be direct force, such as prison where people can be forced to work for others; or it can more cleverly be redirection of those essential goods towards only those who comply with society’s overarching needs, thus still requiring people’s cooperation for their attainment of survival basics.

This is the premise of socialism. Note that this total economic control is only contemplated as a temporary situation however. Eventually it is hoped people will develop an inner moral/cultural motivation to provide goods for “free” as that becomes the new normal and the only life people know. Then the government would give up its absolute power and allow people to simply provide for each other as needed without any external influence. This final system is what is ultimately contemplated by communism and what every socialist should be striving towards.