So there was this:
In this Adam Dershowitz warned that if a Coronavirus vaccine becomes available, it could be mandatory.
I admit to having very mixed feelings on this. Readers of this blog should know my position of vaccination (Vaccinate your kids, people). On the other hand, readers of this blog should also know my position on the use of the coercive power of government (I’m agin’ it; a few exceptions but outside that pretty much always). Still, there is an argument to be made.
Public health is the very epitome of what economist call “External costs” or “neighborhood effects” (basically, where your choices affect not just you but everyone around you and it’s hard to tie the specific “cost” imposed on one person to the specific person imposing that cost). Not just costs but there’s also “external benefits”–where folk other than those directly involved in an economic transaction benefit from it. If something has significant external costs (the commonly used example is pollution, but spreading of illness also works), you’ll have more of it than if the costs were fully paid by those involved. Likewise, if something has external benefits, you’ll have less of it than if the benefits were fully realized by those involved.
Even quite libertarian folk like economists Thomas Sowell and the late Milton Friedman recognize that in such cases a government approach can improve on the free market. Friedman’s example was to use an “effluent fee” to be paid by businesses for waste discharge–“X dollars paid for every ton of Y pollutant”–thus internalizing the external costs.
Sowell, however, is quick to point out (perhaps Friedman did as well, but I don’t recall an example offhand) that just because government can improve on the market in such situations doesn’t mean that it will. There are very few situations so bad that “well-intentioned” government intervention can’t make them worse.
Thus, I am…uncertain of the best course to chart here. If there were some way to make folk who choose not to vaccinate responsible for any harm caused to others (see previous posts on why “if you trust vaccines…” is not a valid response to that), then I’d be all for letting people make their own choices. Absent that, I don’t know.
Nowhere is it writ that I will always have a pat answer for any problem that comes up.