Sacrifice Today, or Sacrifice Tomorrow

This was originally posted on Live Oaks on September 16, 2010. Comments have not been migrated.

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.

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