Thursday, September 08, 2016

For Gary Johnson to Propose That the State Address Vaccination and Global Warming Is Not, In Principle, Against Liberty

Stuart K. Hayashi

As I type this, Gary Johnson is getting flack for saying, "What is Aleppo?"  But I want to address something that has been bothering me for a while.  Gary Johnson was quoted as saying that mandatory childhood vaccinations do make sense and that he might consider that the government should charge coal and oil companies a "fee" for their CO2 emissions.  Many of my libertarian friends balked at this, proclaiming that Gary was conceding here that the State ought to initiate the use of force.  While I don't agree with the exact way he said that these matters should be addressed, the truth is that the government having policies to incentivize childhood vaccination and penalize industrial CO2 emissions are not, in principle, initiations of the use of force.  Rather, for the State to refrain from addressing these issues would actually amount to the State allowing private parties to initiate the use of force.

Initially Gary tweeted, "No to mandatory vaccination."  Later Reason magazine quoted him saying the following:  "I've come to find out that without mandatory vaccines, the vaccines that would in fact be issued would not be effective.  So … it's dependent that you have mandatory vaccines so that every child is immune. Otherwise, not all children will be immune even though they receive a vaccine."

He is referring to the principle of herd immunity.  The idea is that even if you are vaccinated, if only a minority of the population is vaccinated -- say, 40 percent -- then everyone in the population is at risk of a pathogen, even people, such as yourself, who have been vaccinated.  By contrast, if 99 percent of the population is vaccinated, then even those who have not been vaccinated are protected.  Therefore, it is not sufficient to say, "If you want your kids vaccinated, vaccinate them, but if you don't get them vaccinated, that's OK."  If you refrain from having your children vaccinated, you put not only your own children at risk but everyone else's as well.

Here is an explanation of why that is, from Shane D. Killian. No, he is not a Paul Krugman-type Democrat.  He is a Murray Rothbard-styled anarchist but, unlike many anti-vaccination libertarians, Killian is well-informed on this issue.

Later Gary seemed to retract his defense of mandatory vaccinations.  I think his position is that this is not within the authority of the federal government; it is up to each state government to decide if it is a state that will mandate childhood vaccinations.

As for the issue of carbon fee, Gary notes that, yes, CO2 emissions from heavy industry do contribute to global warming, causing the warming to intensify by a margin that would otherwise not be there.  Gary suggested that to disincentivize CO2 emission and incentivize these firms to switching to energy sources that emit less CO2, an industrial firm be charged a "fee" by the government according to how much CO2 it emits.  Subsequently Gary said that when looking into it, he did not find the economics to be feasible, and therefore he is retracting his suggestion.

I actually think that Gary's positions made more sense prior to the retractions.  For the government to refrain from addressing communicable diseases and industrial CO2 emissions is for the government to allow specific private parties to get away with harmfully initiating force on other private parties.  My area of disagreement with Gary is the way in which he suggests the government should address these issues.  In both of these matters, I think the Coase Theorem should be applied.

If I Refuse to Have My Children Vaccinated for Pathogen X, and Then They Transmit Pathogen X to Your Children, I Have Initiated Force on Your Household
Instead of having command-and-control mandates forcing everyone to be vaccinated, I think individuals should be held civilly liable if they transmit diseases that they could have been vaccinated against.

For example, if I refuse to have my household vaccinated for measles, and then my child contracts measles and inadvertently transmit it to your child, that is an inadvertent initiation of force against your household, just as it would be if I drove recklessly and hit you with my car. Therefore, you should be able to file a lawsuit against my estate for damages, such as the medical expenses my household's transmission of measles imposed on you.

And having been vaccinated would serve as a legal defense. That is, if my children were vaccinated for measles and you tried to sue my household anyway for having transmitted measles to your household, I could defend against your suit in court by pointing out that my household has already been vaccinated.

If I refuse to have my kids vaccinated and, as a byproduct, it increases the likelihood of then transmitting a pathogen to your kids, then my household has cut its own costs by imposing those costs on your household. If you sue me over this, you are transferring those costs back to me. That is the application of the Coase Theorem to public health, and this is how I think widespread vaccination can be incentivized without a command-and-control mandate that every child be vaccinated.

Some people have told me that they don't like my idea because it's too difficult to prove Household A transmitted a specific virus to Household B. But bioethicist Arthur Caplan has pointed out that officials at the CDC are actually improving in the ability to pinpoint the source of an epidemic.

It might be difficult for them to prove who gave who the flu, but they have identified Patient Zero in the case of the Disneyland measles outbreak and they have identified Patient Zero in the case of the most recent ebola outbreak. Therefore, as Dr. Caplan has argued, this idea has more scientific plausibility than critics are giving it credit for.

Now, when it comes to liability, there is an issue of whether the exact person who transmitted the pathogen is a minor or legal adult. If I refuse to have my kid vaccinated for measles, and my kid gives another kid measles, then, as long as my child remains a minor, I am the one held liable. However, if my kid was never vaccinated, and then grows into an adult and gives measles to a kid, then my son or daughter -- now being an adult -- is the one who can be held liable.

If Fossil-Fuel Industries Can Emit CO2 Unimpeded, They Minimize Their Own Costs While Imposing Those Costs on Other Private Parties, Thereby Initiating Force
A similar phenomenon occurs with respect to industrial CO2 emissions. The government having a policy to discourage industrial CO2 emissions would not be an initiation of the use of force. Rather, for the government to allow industry to emit CO2 into the atmosphere, unimpeded, would be for the government to allow fossil-fuel industries to initiate force inadvertently upon private parties.

Scientists do not expect the scary Hollywood movie scenarios to come about with respect to anthropogenic climate change; it is extremely likely that the industrialized nations will survive this. However, property damage will result from climate change within the next 200 years, such as in cases where land that was once arable will no longer be arable. Waterfront properties that were once inhabitable will be threatened. Climate changes anyway, but the intensity of this will increase by a margin that wouldn't be present if not for the contribution from heavy industry.

To the extent that CO2 emissions from industry contribute physical harm to people, that is not caused by the free market but by the tragedy of the commons. The fossil-fuel industries profit privately as they emit CO2, but the climate is treated as a socialistic commons wherein everyone can admit their CO2 in spite of the harm this will inflict on private parties. The fossil-fuel industries' profits are internalized but the costs are externalized. The coal companies could reduce CO2 emissions by gasifying their coal, but they refrain from doing so because, on a cost-benefit analysis , they judge it is not worth it. The free-market privatization solution is to bring private property rights back in, transferring the costs back to the firms that were externalizing their costs.

Here, environmentalists normally say, "That's why we need command-and-control cap-and-trade on carbon credits." But there is a more individualized solution: civil law. If farmers' crops and owners of waterfront property are harmed by climate change, and scientists can demonstrate that the harm would have been by a smaller margin if not for industries' CO2 emissions, then those private parties can pool their resources to file civil suits against the CO2-emitting industries.

A normal rejoinder here is, "But the people hurt most are in the Third World. How can they sue U.S. companies in a U.S. court?" There is a federal statute that allows for that. It is called the Alien Tort Claim Act. It was invoked in the Unocal case where Unocal used slave labor in Indonesia. The former slaves threatened a lawsuit. They invoked the Alien Tort Claim Act, saying they would use this law to sue Unocal in a U.S. court. The case was settled, but Unocal would not have settled so easily had it not recognized that it was indeed feasible for the ATCA to be used in this way.

Once the externalized costs are transferred back to coal companies, they will find that it is now cheaper for them to gasify coal than to pump out as much CO2 at their present rate.

I do recognize that Gary Johnson dislikes using the courts and civil suits to transfer costs back to the industries that are inadvertently initiating force through their emissions; he prefers the EPA. Still, I think that, to the extent that fossil-fuel industries are causing climate-related harm, that is a problem of socialized costs, and that private parties invoking their private property rights is the solution.

Thus, I do not think that states mandating vaccination or for the federal government to impose a carbon fee or carbon tax would be the best course to take. Nonetheless, too many libertarians insist that freedom consists of parents refusing to vaccinate their children and for heavy industry to emit CO2 unhindered, as if both cases do not inflict physical damage on other parties. Those actions do inflict damage and are initiations of force. Therefore, while Gary has been erroneous with respect to implementation, he is more correct than his libertarian detractors in his saying initially that the government ought to change the way in which it handles these issues.