Power & Market

A Rights- and Logic-Based Approach to Pandemics

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We all are too familiar with the approach to pandemics taken by governments at all levels in the US. In the name of “public safety” governments assumed “emergency powers” to restrict the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly (a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution) and to deprive citizens of property without due process of law (a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution). The Fourteenth Amendment applies these protections to the states, too. I will not repeat all the justifications that emanated from government that supposedly negated these constitutional protections. Instead I will concentrate on whether they are defensible logically, using government’s own criteria as the judge. The individual will be the subject of our inquiry, not the group.

Claim No. 1: Peaceful Assembly Threatens Your Health and the Health of Others

Let’s assume that government is right. If individuals assemble, they threaten one another’s health in some way. But why should government make the decision about what constitutes a threat to health? What is its criteria? What is the threshold? Some individual in government makes this decision, but why should his level of acceptable risk be the group standard? Can’t each individual decide how much risk he willingly assumes? Furthermore, if a person decides to assemble with like-minded individuals, what risk is that to those who do not wish to assemble? You’ve willingly quarantined yourself, as governments recommended. Your risk is not affected by those who do not wish to quarantine themselves. They assume more risk; yours remains the same. Even if the pandemic spreads more rapidly, it does so only among those who took the risk in the first place, not you. Again, you have not been subjected to any additional risk. This is the reasoning behind the actions of many hypocritical politicians who ignored their own orders to their constituents. They merely decided that they were willing to take additional risk, and no one suggested that they were threatening others who remained in quarantine. So, logically, the government-imposed quarantine, a.k.a. restricting the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly, makes no sense.

Claim No. 2: ”Nonessential” Businesses Threaten Your Health and the Health of Others

The same logic can be applied to governments’ decisions to lock down “nonessential” businesses. (All businesses are essential, so that qualification is nonsense.) Government used the same rationale; i.e., that mingling with one’s fellow citizens in places of business threatened the individual himself and others. But these “minglers” assumed the risk and threatened no one who did not “mingle.”

The big question becomes this: Why do those who quarantine themselves insist upon forcing quarantines on others? Certainly, businesses that choose to close may do so voluntarily. Why should they be concerned over those who do not choose to close? (Actually, I am not aware of any business that voluntarily closed due to risk intolerance. But maybe such a business does exist.) Businesses can adapt their premises to allay the fears of potential customers. This seems to be happening voluntarily for those “essential businesses” that were permitted to remain open. Why should government dictate business practices to those who remain open? This is a decision for individual businesses alone. If such businesses adopt too stringent entry requirements, patronage will flow to more friendly competitors. If such businesses adopt too lenient entry requirements, the same thing will happen. There is no objective guideline for determining entry practices. In fact, the same kind of businesses may be more or less stringent, attracting more or less risk-averse clientele.

Let Perfect Freedom Prevail

Each individual has the right to “perfect freedom” in deciding for himself how much risk he is willing to assume from any of thousands of daily risks. We practice perfect freedom every day without even thinking about it as we go about our daily lives. Each individual may choose his own risk tolerance, because his decision cannot affect those who wish to take less or even more risk. Risk-averse individuals protect themselves. Likewise, each individual business decides what is best for itself and its customers, ranging from closing down to taking no additional risk-mitigating measures at all. If customers decide that the business is not taking appropriate measures, they can stay home and/or patronize other businesses with risk-mitigating measures more attuned to their liking. In other words, there is no logical reason that our constitutionally guaranteed rights of peaceful assembly and to protection of our property need be violated in order to protect “society.” Society is composed of millions upon millions of individuals, all with different risk profiles. Let perfect freedom prevail.

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