A proposed Constitutional Amendment: Rights of the People

Note: this Amendment was drafted by some friends of mine. I like it, and believe it deserves wide consideration. I will comment on it below the text.


Section 1

The Federal Government shall mandate and provide free, universal, “single payer” healthcare to any and all US citizens, or permanent residents, regardless of age, medical status or medical history. Each person over 18 shall be issued some form of National Health Care Card. Private health insurance will still be available, but all physicians must, as a pre-condition of their state licensing and certification, provide service if possible to any citizen with a card. The intent: No one should be denied the right to health care because they don’t have adequate funds.

Section 2

The United States Federal Government shall make available to any and all academically qualified citizens and permanent residents, free tuition at a public two or four-year state college or university. This includes up to and through the doctorate level, including professional graduate programs. These schools must be accredited by the appropriate accrediting agency. The intent: No one should be denied the right to a college education because they don’t have adequate funds for tuition.

Section 3

The United States Federal Government shall provide financial stipends for livable housing to any and all US citizens and permanent residents who are unable to pay fair market rates for housing in the area where they reside. These stipends will be individually evaluated and issued on a sliding scale of payment, determined by family size, income, assets and zip code. If it is determined that there is an inability to work due to physical or mental health or other issue, resulting in a citizen not capable of affording livable housing, free housing will be provided on an emergency basis. The intent: No one should be denied the right to livable shelter because they don’t have adequate funds.

Section 4

The United States Federal Government shall provide money to any and all citizens and permanent residents for food to those who need it. This program will be an upgrade to the National Food Stamp Program, (SNAP): as long as a citizen can demonstrate need, they will be issued monthly stamps/coupons providing for sustenance. The intent: No one should go hungry because they don’t have adequate funds.

Section 5

Congress shall earmark adequate funds annually on a nondiscretionary basis, to cover the costs of Sections 1 through 4. These funds will come from a pool which will be funded annually by a new progressive tax structure on all citizens and all corporate and investment earnings. Since the Constitution defines corporations are persons, they shall be taxed like persons. They shall behave like good citizens in that they shall invest in people for the good of the people and the country. The intent: to reaffirm the rights described in the Declaration of Independence, and enhance the social contract of our democracy without bankrupting the government.

Pietro’s Comments

I like this proposed Amendment because it is focused. It proposes four rights: healthcare, higher education, housing, and food. I also like the fact that the economic benefits likely to result from these rights would more than pay for the costs. Why?

1. Lowering risks to business entrepreneurs.

Small business start-ups are the backbone of a growing economy. But small business fail 80% of the time as a general rule. So individuals must be willing to take risks, and fail, in order for that one-in-five success to become a common event. However, individuals become increasingly risk-averse if they fear losing health-coverage, housing, or even going hungry if their business fails. In order to encourage people to release their creative energies and try audacious things, we need to let them know that failure will not be punishingly costly.

2. Treating education as a national investment in growth.

Which economic sectors have experienced the most economic growth over the last 40 years? Advanced technology in pharmaceuticals and medical instruments; electronics hardware and software; the entertainment industry; design and branding. Working in all of these fields–as an entrepreneur or even as a laborer–requires advanced education.

We can bring clothing and manufacturing back to the U.S. through protectionist tariffs, but those are not growth industries and the pay in both sectors flattened out decades ago. Even East Asian countries are now being priced out of manufacturing by even poorer South and Southeast Asian countries. So, yes, we can implement a National Charity Act of protectionist tariffs to make Bangladeshi shirts more expensive than shirts sewn in Tennessee. Or we can invest in the citizens in Tennessee to innovate the next valuable economic innovation.

3. We need to take care of those who take care of us.

America needs a high-tech, innovation-driven economy, but it also needs to take care of the people who care for us by picking up the trash, teaching our children, caring for our elderly. These service-sector jobs are respectable and absolutely necessary, but do not pay well. So we need to guarantee housing, health care, and food to all of the people who care for us. Cities in the U.S. are not functioning well at the moment because high-salary people have moved back into the centers and service workers now have to pay the highest price in both fuel and time to get to the places where they can earn a living. If the right-to-housing becomes a civil right in every jurisdiction in the America, cities will be compelled to make housing available where the jobs are.

4. What about the ‘undeserving poor?’

First, set the policies that will maximize long term economic growth for the whole country, before seeking out policies to punish the people you think are ‘undeserving.’ When I think of ‘undeserving,’ I think about the billionaire who would get free healthcare through this Amendment. Can we afford it? Yes. In fact, I am not sure that we can afford not to implement these rights.

5. These are positive rights. The Constitution only has negative rights.

Most of the rights in the U.S. Constitution are ‘negative,’ meaning that they restrain the Government from messing with the People in some way. However, the right to vote, the right to tax-funded civil courts, and the right to a speedy and impartial trial are actually positive rights. Furthermore, we have enacted major positive rights as Congressional Acts: the right to clean air, the right to clean water, the right to non-poisonous food. In fact all three of these positive rights were signed into law by Republican leaders who saw them as expressions of the long-standing conservative promotion of individual rights. Democrats, likewise, have promoted positive rights. Many of the rights proposed in this Amendment are similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was largely drafted by Eleanor Roosevelt, and which the U.S. has adopted through ratification.

Conclusion: a nonpartisan Amendment that would be most useful.

This Amendment is consistent with John Dewey and Jane Addams’ push for universal, compulsory primary and secondary education in the early 20th century. Implementation of universal K-through-12 education prepared the U.S. to become the global economic powerhouse in the 1950s and 1960s. Which countries have higher standards of living than the U.S. today? Singapore, where the government develops 80% of the housing stock, and promotes higher education very aggressively. Hmm. Does this damage trade and competitive markets in Singapore? No. Hmm. It is worth looking around the world to discover that these proposed “Rights of the People” are not actually that radical. They just make sense.

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