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Letter: Don’t confuse human rights with good policy

Nicholas Stump’s op-ed in Sunday’s paper (“Is a healthy environment a human right?”) is another example of misappropriating labels to change the dynamic of policy debate. The writer misguidedly advocates elevating food safety and environmental protection beyond good governmental policy, to a human right alongside freedom of expression and religion and rights of the criminally accused.

Ensuring consumer product safety and reining in overpollution are both worthy legislative agendas. However, to make such things “human rights,” is a terrible idea for two reasons. First, doing so cheapens conditions that are far worse—like rotting in jail for supporting the wrong religion or political party, or speaking out against government abuses. Victims of these horrors would gladly trade their lots for living free in less-than-pristine environmental conditions.

The second reason this is bad is that it fundamentally upsets the careful balance, crafted by our legislative and judicial systems, between cleanliness and safe products on one hand, and the legitimate needs of industry on the other. One reason the Democrats lost handily in 2016 was popular reaction against regulation-creep. Overregulation is proven to kill economies, as the experience of India and the Soviet Union can attest, yet Stump and his associates would impose more of it. As “human rights,” environmental protection and food safety become quasi-Constitutional rights and there is little to check the power of an overreaching executive wont to invoke “environmental protection” as a pretext for capriciously regulating whatever, whenever, wherever it desires.

Stump’s aspiration to characterize his agenda as a “moral issue” further exemplifies its bankruptcy. That he must play on our emotional displeasure at immorality is evidence that the dispassionate, rational policy argument for expanding human rights in this manner does not work. Good legislative policy is based on thought, not on feelings. Unfortunately, Stump’s agenda is rooted in the latter.

— Davis Brown

Salisbury

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