A property right is the right to exclude others’ access to something. It is the right to infringe on others’ freedom. These rights are socially determined and vary greatly across different societies. For example, do you think you should own the property right to your own genetic information or do you think your employer owns it? A new bill, HR 1313, would give your employer a partial property right over your genetic code. Employees who violate that right would have to pay an annual fine sort of like the fine you would pay for trespassing on someone else’s lawn. Right now you own your own genetic information and if an employer would want to see it, they would have to pay you to transfer some of the intellectual property rights. Employers would love to know the genetic code of their employees because it could help them determine who to get rid of. Employers want the most productive people and anyone who is at a heightened genetic risk of a major disease would not only reduce productivity by missing work, but by bringing down morale too. Furthermore, because of America’s unique employer-centric health insurance system, employers have to pay higher insurance costs if their employees are sicker than average and that gives them an extra incentive to do genetic screening.
The fact that this is even being discussed–let alone voted on–shows how far political power has moved away from the median worker towards the owners of capital as inequality has risen. Gattaca, here we come. Julia Belluz has more details.