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The Circle Bastiat

Does every right come at somebody else's expense?

Sometimes, the 'cost' imposed on others is meaningless.

By Art CardenGuest blogger / March 1, 2011

Hundreds of protesters came out to oppose the building of a Muslim center near Ground Zero in New York City's financial district on August 22, 2010. Would the construction of the mosque actually pose any real costs to the people who opposed it?

Ann Hermes / Staff / File

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In the comments on this post below, Rhodes math professor Jeff Hamrick makes a very important point. I quote him in full:

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Of course, it is a fallacy that every right comes with a meaningful cost derived at somebody else’s expense. For years, I’ve heard that respecting the right of every person to marry the one they love will “cost” heterosexuals something. It will do something to their children. It will impose some utterly vague inconvenience on straights as they come to understand marriage differently. It will force the state to shed pennies here and there to allow LGBT individuals to enjoy the same estate tax, Social Security, etc., benefits. While this “right” comes with a cost (and the general point about NFLVR is well-taken), let’s be clear about the real reasons that people complain about certain costs: these complaints are often a thinly-veiled way to encode bigotry or disdain for a group of people, whether those people are a pair of lesbians living in the hood or a family in sub-Saharan Africa hoping for a clean water source.

A couple of thoughts in response:

1. This is exactly the kind of discussion I would want to have in the perfect liberal arts college course.

2. Jeff is right that not all “costs” are meaningful. Any change in the status quo will impose a “cost” on someone else. I don’t have a right to demand compensation because my neighbor’s shiny new car makes me feel bad; as philosopher Michael Huemer said once at an IHS conference we both attended in response to a criticism of income inequality, “envy is a vice.” Along these lines, here’s Steve Landsburg’s review of Robert Frank’s Luxury Fever. Murray Rothbard offers a clear treatment of a number of cases in The Ethics of Liberty. I applied some of these principles to the immigration debate in a Forbes article last year.