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What Would Murray Say About the Coronavirus?

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Murray Rothbard died in January 1995, long before this year’s coronavirus scare. But the principles this great thinker taught us can help us answer questions about the coronavirus outbreak which trouble many of us. Would the US government be justified in imposing massive involuntary quarantines in order to slow down the spread of disease? What about vaccines? If government scientists claim that they have discovered a vaccine for the coronavirus, should we take it? If we refuse, can the government force us to do so? These are the sort of problems we can solve if we look to Murray for help.

The fundamental rule for deciding whether anyone, including the government, is justified in using force to make us do something we don’t want to do is the nonaggression principle (NAP). As Murray put in in “War, Peace, and the State,” “No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor.”

You might at first think that you can use the NAP to justify forced quarantines against the coronavirus. Suppose someone had a deadly disease that would always spread to others if he came in contact with them. Probably the person would want to isolate himself and not infect others, but if he refused, wouldn’t the people in danger be justified in isolating him? He is a threat to others, even if he doesn’t intend to harm them. 

Thinking about this case can lead us astray, and here is where Murray can help us most. In his great book The Ethics of Liberty, he says, “It is important to insist, however, that the threat of aggression be palpable, immediate, and direct, in short, that it be embodied in the initiation of an overt act. Any remote or indirect criterion—any ‘risk’ or ‘threat’—is simply an excuse for invasive action by the supposed ‘defender’ against the alleged ‘threat.’” Murray hammers home the point later in the book. He says, “Once one can use force against someone because of his ‘risky’ activities, the sky is the limit, and there is virtually no limit to aggression against the rights of others. Once permit someone’s ‘fear’ of the ‘risky’ activities of others to lead to coercive action, then any tyranny becomes justified.”

When we apply what Murray says to the coronavirus situation, we can answer our question about forced quarantines. People are not threatening others with immediate death by contagion. Rather, if you have the disease, you might pass it on to others. Or you might not. What happens if someone gets the disease is also uncertain.

The key fact about the disease is that we know very little about it. We talk about the “coronavirus,” but we don’t know that the disease is caused by a virus. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that it isn’t. Bill Sardi interviewed a renowned expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Lawrence Bronxmeyer. Dr. Bronxmeyer pointed out that “Antibiotics cannot be used for viruses. If a virus, then why aren’t antiviral drugs working but antibiotics are?”

Further, the disease, fortunately, is not the great danger that it is being played up to be. “Fear of the COVID-19 coronavirus may be misplaced. More people are killed by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (1.7 million) in a year than the few who have been infected (~80,000) or have died (less than 2000) of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

It is projected that the COVID-19 coronavirus will peak worldwide in March and then return in a second but lesser peak in September, in accordance with Yang’s Wuhan study from 2004 to 2013 describing the annual TB surges in Wuhan, China.

Saying the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus is inevitable, a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) official advised Americans to “brace themselves” and prepare to shut down public schools, avoid going to church, and self-quarantine their families. These onerous measures are for a virus that has infected just fifty-three Americans (as of February 25), “​mostly people who traveled recently to China.”

Murray would agree with Sardi, who says about quarantining Americans,

The coronavirus infects and then produces symptoms 3–5 days later (the incubation period). However, maybe a 2-week quarantine period is not long enough. A recent study says the maximum incubation period is 24 days. That is a long time to quarantine human populations.

These draconian quarantine measures are an overkill. The COVID-19 coronavirus, as it is now called, is infecting and killing no more people than what occurs in a common cold/flu season (2.5% death rate among infected individuals). For comparison, the 2017 flu season in the U.S. caused a reported 2 deaths per 100,000.

Why has a panic developed over this disease? Here we can again learn from Murray. He taught us to follow the money, and in this case, drug manufacturers and developers of vaccines stand to profit if they can frighten enough people. We all remember the “swine flu” panic of several years ago. Doctors developed a vaccine to prevent people from getting the alleged disease, and this vaccine killed many people. When Gerald Ford was president, there was also a “swine flu” panic, and you can watch Murray laughing at the panic here. If he were with us today, he would be laughing at the fearmongers, warning us about the dangers of vaccines, drugs, and quarantines, and reminding us that the main danger we face is the tyrannical and predatory state.

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Contact Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is founder and chairman of the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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