The World Doesn’t Owe You a Thing

by | Jan 22, 2024

The World Doesn’t Owe You a Thing

by | Jan 22, 2024

depositphotos 246483220 s

A huge drawback to social media is this: I’m not sure I really want everybody’s opinions on every last thing, and it’s frankly demoralizing to realize just how far gone so many people are.

For example, one of my own Twitter followers wrote this: “The idea of having to ‘earn a living’ implies that, by default, you don’t actually deserve to be alive.”

He thinks this is profound.

I don’t even know what it means to say somebody “deserves” to be alive.

What I know is this: Nature doesn’t care what you “deserve.” Nature alone doesn’t simply hand you things to sustain you. You have to go out and acquire them for yourself, sometimes at the cost of great physical exertion and sacrifice. And if you do manage, by a direct reckoning with nature, to produce everything you need entirely on your own and without interacting with other human beings, your standard of living will be almost unimaginably low.

So the way to achieve the kind of living standards we have come to enjoy necessarily involves, at the very least, integrating oneself into the division of labor, such that everybody’s unique specializations combine to multiply output manyfold.

The division of labor, in turn, involves human beings. Since the goods we need to survive are not generated automatically but have to be produced by someone, then if you are going to live on this earth without “making a living” (the expression that the original post finds so offensive), the only way to do so is by forcing other people to make a living for you. And then what happens to the life those people “deserve”? Don’t those people deserve a life in which they’re not required to do forced labor for strangers?

Confusion like this is why it’s important to understand that when in the American tradition we speak of the right to life, liberty, and property, we really mean, in the case of life, the right not to have your life taken away. You do not have a positive right to life in the sense that if you needed it you would have an abstract right to a kidney dialysis machine. You do have a right to pay for the use of such a machine, since that’s a subset of property rights, but your “right to life” doesn’t include a right to demand that somebody else build that machine and let you use it.

Likewise, your “right to property” means you have the right not to have your existing property taken away. It does not mean that if someday you should wind up without property you’d be justified in demanding that other people fork over their-hard stuff to you because you have a “right to property.”

Your right to free speech means you have the right not to be prevented from speaking. It does not mean you have the “right” to your own television station or newspaper. It means you have the right not to be prevented from using those things if you happen to own them.

This is all a fancy way of saying: nobody owes you anything, regardless of what you may think you “deserve.

Apart from bad philosophy it’s also a bad attitude. Almost nobody who feels like the world owes him something ever winds up successful.

This article was originally distributed as a Tom Woods newsletter and is republished with permission.

About Tom Woods

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the 2019 winner of the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award from the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. He is a senior fellow of the Mises Institute and host of the Tom Woods Show. Tom holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and his master’s, M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

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