Oct 24, 2014

The Libertarian Solution to Catching a Cold

As the weather gets colder, the likelihood one will catch a cold or flu during everyday interactions increases tenfold or more.  Few things are as ordinary, yet dreaded, as catching a cold or flu.  One that is much less commonplace, yet far more serious to acquire is a disease like Ebola- as has been shown by recent events.

There can be no more personal of an issue than what goes in to one's own body, as the body is the cornerstone of private property.  When a sick person breathes their germs into the air, they are wittingly exposing everyone around them to an invasion of their body.  This is the definition of an reckless violation of property.  Such an act is similar to kidnapping, as the person who is infected is oftentimes bedridden for days or weeks upon illness.  In the case of more serious diseases like Ebola, the act of infecting another is tantamount to manslaughter.  It is, therefore, the responsibility of the sick to attempt to contain the illness to the best of their ability, also known as self-quarantine.

Socialization of Disease

Without holding people personally responsible for causing the illness of others, a socialization of risk occurs.  In the collective society we live in, getting sick is just one of those things that happens and there is absolutely no recourse for the person who has been infected.  When sick people have no personal disincentive to spread disease around, a higher risk of outbreak will occur.

As with any action, people tend to weigh the risks vs. the benefits when choosing to stay at home when they are sick, or to go about their daily business.  This is similar to the drunk, who has a choice upon leaving the tavern- will they drive, or call a cab?  Driving is (in the short run) more convenient, less costly and takes less time.  However, if they crash their car into another driver, they will cause injury or death, and (at the very least) destruction of property.  The drunk who decides to drive is clearly acting foolishly; similar short run thinking and irrationality can be found in the person who is ill.  Furthermore, the drunk is likely to only cause one crash in the act of driving home; the sick person's capacity to infect is only limited by how many people are around them while contagious.

If the person who were sick would, instead, seek out a friend, family member, or concierge service to get the things they needed while they are recover from illness, much less risk of outbreak would occur.  As such, far fewer people are put at risk while the sick person recovers away from others.  In addition, private health insurance agencies could offer solutions similar to auto insurance agencies by offering protective coverage for those injured by their clients (the equivalent of "full coverage").  This would reduce the chance that someone would go out when they are sick because if they habitually incur claims by formerly well people who they have caused illness or death, their premium will increase.  These agencies could assess the risk they are bearing with each individual client they cover by identifying relevant factors, much like auto insurance currently does by offering higher rates for those who pose a greater threat to other drivers.

This "crisis" of a looming Ebola pandemic will bring about a typical response from many, which is to implore the State- that institution which has failed, as usual, to provide protection against such crises- to "do something".  Even some who would normally favor a reduction in State power will grant an exemption for Ebola, as with any other punctuated crisis.  At this time, these folks will say, the State must do what it has to do to "save us"; we can get back to whittling down government power when things are back to normal.

In actuality, the "fend for yourself" mentality (otherwise known as personal responsibility) would provide a much greater protection against a potential outbreak because there is no way for the State to control said outbreaks short of totalitarianism.  Instead of socializing these risks, it would be much more prudent to hold those who spread disease, wittingly or unwittingly, accountable for the lives they affect or end.  This is not a moment for libertarians to yield in the quest to greatly reduce or end the State.  Indeed, of all instances, is the most important time to be critical of the State, and equally vociferous and radical in demanding it gets out of the way, as the States ineptitude is a clear and present danger.  A libertarian society would firmly defend property from aggression.  In this case, it is the ultimate personal property- our bodies.  Such a society would not only be more free, but it would severely quell the spread of pandemic outbreaks whether it be cold, flu, or a truly dangerous disease like Ebola.

*Update 10/27*

Upon searching Google for "Libertarian Solution Ebola", I came across an article about the exact subject:

How Libertarians Would Handle an Ebola Outbreak in Texas

This article contains several quotes from various libertarians discussing the issue.  Here I found a quote from Libertarian candidate for governor, Kathie Glass, which gets pretty close to my analysis in the above article:

"Kathie Glass, a Libertarian candidate for Texas governor, says that forced isolation is OK if it’s absolutely necessary. 'If you are a threat to other innocent people, that’s an act of aggression,' she says. 'When someone has fatal disease, a deadly communicable disease, that’s an act of aggression to go around and expose other people to it.' But, she adds, we should be careful that we are not just wantonly violating someone’s liberty."
Unfortunately, all of the libertarians interviewed could properly be described as "beltarians" who offer decent enough analysis of the way to view the subject (property rights), and then proceed to advocate a coercive governmental solution.  (Also, see:NY and NJ Institute Mandatory Quarantines for At-Risk Travelers from Ebola Hot Spots: A Libertarian Perspective )* This blunder is to deny a fundamental tenant of libertarianism, which is that coercion is not justifiable- even in the face of an Ebola outbreak.  However radical this may seem, it is questions like protecting against outbreak which separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say.  Many libertarians (and conservatives) who rightly advocate against big government will quickly abandon their principles when faced with big questions such as how to address an outbreak scenario, when the proper libertarian response is to double-down against coercion.

*I have my suspicions that Robert Wenzel, author of the linked article, was simply taking a strange quasi-pro government position to bait readers into a commenting frenzy.  For the record, Wenzel is not really advocating government rightness on the subject.  Rather, he is simply arguing that a non-coercive society would take similar steps to NY and NJ to prevent Ebola outbreak.  Unfortunately, in doing so, he is IMO muddying the waters as to what the libertarian position is on the subject.

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