Friday, September 10, 2021

Being ‘Free’ to Transmit COVID Unrestricted Is the Actual Imposition Forced on Others

Stuart K. Hayashi

Sometimes the local Honolulu news will cover some self-deluded people. Some of these people spread conspiracy theories that deny the scientific evidence about COVID-19. Many more of these people reject, out of hand, the very idea of there being necessary rules to prevent the spread of this disease.

Every time such people appear on the news, I brace myself anxiously. In several instances, as I anticipated, among these self-deluded people are ones I have met at free-market libertarian meetings. At the time, those people seemed sane and I was friendly with them.

As have they, I am experiencing culture shock in adjusting to the rules that mitigate COVID’s spread. I never liked wearing a surgical mask. But unlike those acquaintances of mine, I recognize that this aversion to culture shock does not justify acting on motivated reasoning to rationalize this hatred for such rules.

I do have qualified qualms about such rules coming on from the top down in a command-and-control, one-size-fits-all fashion. In a political system closer to the one I favor, this would be the alternative. Insofar as contact tracing can be used to prove a case, a household that contracts a dangerous pathogen from an unvaccinated party should be able to hold that unvaccinated party liable for it.

A party that refuses a vaccine that is readily available is a party that cuts its own costs and imposes those costs on other people in the form of posing a danger to them. The victim suing the unvaccinated transmitter for damages simply transfers those costs back to the unvaccinated party.

When it comes to COVID, civil liability should also apply to businesses where large crowds gather. If a business allows for a gathering of twenty or more people at once, then that business should be held civilly liable if contact tracers find that someone contracted COVID from an event that the business hosted. No matter what excuse that business’s owner makes, the legal doctrine of Strict Liability should apply.

In my estimation, those are the ideal remedies. But, absent of my proposal being adopted, the next best alternative is indeed for the government to have these top-down, command-and-control rules to mitigate COVID’s spread. I mean mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and often even stay-at-home orders. These rules are a wiser alternative than what many of these COVID-deniers seem to want: for there to be no COVID rules, just as life was in late 2019, and for them to be “free” to go around and transmit COVID with impunity.

Can COVID restrictions go too far? Can there be unreasonable ones? Yes, there can be. Of course a COVID restriction cannot be inherently above any criticism or call for amendment. Robert W. Tracinski noted last year how Michigan’s governor Whitmer
issued a confusing and highly intrusive executive order that required stores to rope off sections containing “nonessential” items, banned travel between households, and banned landscapers from working. The chief complaint is that Whitmer banned activities based on how “essential” or “nonessential” she deemed them to be, rather than on whether they could be conducted safely.
One can reasonably criticize specific measures as being poorly thought out or poorly implemented. It is entirely misguided, though, to pronounce — as too many self-proclaimed Objectivists and free-marketers have — that the COVID-19 restrictions are wrong or unjust in principle, as if everything would be better if there were no more such rules than there were in early 2019. 

As the transmission of fatal pathogens is indeed an initiation of force, it is legitimate that government force be used to counter that spread. The issue is how government force can be used most properly. It is foolish to pretend that it would be preferable if the government did nothing about this.

This should not be so difficult for self-proclaimed libertarians and free-marketers to understand. It’s common for them to say, “In our ideal world, all roads would be privately owned. And the private owner of the road would set the rules for it, such as how fast people may drive on it. But as long as roads are controlled by the government, the government should have these command-and-control speed limits and laws against drunk driving.” The same principle applies to curbing the advancement of COVID contractions.

It likewise applies to the issue of pollution. Much of the air and most waterways and other water resources are government-owned. This collectivism disincentives people from taking care of such resources. In a purely capitalist society, these resources would be private belongings of various parties. If a company polluted the air or water of a privately owned spaced, the private owner would have every incentive to sue the polluter for damages.

But absent of this pure privatization, there should be these top-down, command-and-control laws that limit the pollution of the air and water. That is better than the air and water resources remaining publicly owned combined with industrial plants being able to pollute them “freely.”

COVID rules can become too overbearing. But the same can occur with traffic laws and pollution reduction. Incompetent legislators could pass many traffic laws so severe as to make life nearly impossible for motorists. Likewise, top-down command-and-control pollution regulations can become onerous to the point where they drive industrial production to a halt.

But, again, if a purely individualistic privatization solution cannot gain political favor, the next best alternative is not to repeal all traffic laws and all anti-pollution measures. It is to have these laws renegotiated and rewritten so that all parties’ concerns can be addressed more adequately. That is how it should be with COVID rules.

Nor it is practical simply to say, “Stay-at-home orders should apply only to the elderly.” No, the elderly are protected to the degree that COVID rules apply to everyone.

I still support free enterprise. Free enterprise does not include “freedom” from rules to protect people from COVID. When I hear denials of reality from so many libertarians and Objectivists whose judgment I had previously trusted, I feel ashamed.

A LibertarKaren on Twitter: “You don’t have a right to be free from respiratory viruses.”

My reply:

My friend Pablo Wegesend, another Hawaii resident, is right on. 
 I like ideas for libertarian things like entrepreneurship... I’m against the War on Drugs. I’m against any government’s war on consensual activities of adults. “Consensual” is the word. I don’t consent to have a contagious virus spread to me. ... This [the set of COVID rules, contrary to recent hyperbole] is not Nazi Germany. This is not living under the Taliban. ... Cases are going up. Take it seriously.