In criticising the recent U.N. resolution on drinking water, The Australian makes a false distinction: “…human rights…are things the state cannot take away from you (such as life, liberty and property), not things that the state must give you with taxpayers’ money” (‘Safe drinking is not a right’, August 11). This distinction arises from the belief that some rights are real, natural and cost-free, and the rest are illusory.
All rights, and laws, are social fictions which presumably have benefits but come at a cost of enforcement. In this regard property and drinking water are the same. Who is paying for the enforcement of the laws protecting your property, and even your life, if not the taxpayer? Once we have accepted this, it is simply a matter of priorities, and I for one put safe water very high on the list.
The Australian further argues for the privatisation of water resources, a idea which has had patchy results and met with stiff popular resistance, but is actually not incompatible with this resolution, as private operators are also subject to law and enforceable rights – it is not only the state from whom we require protection, although this focus reflects propertarian preoccupations.