vaccines, coercive like a market

Chris Christie, the gift that just keeps on giving, says that parents should have choice when it comes to whether or not to having their children vaccinated. And, you know, in a certain sense he’s right. I think that nobody should be forced, by governmental power or corporate, to have their children injected with any particular kinds of chemicals or agents. I just think that a refusal to do so should necessitate that those children be barred from entering public spaces, most certainly including public schools. The fact that this provision is not already implied in this discussion demonstrates the degree to which the individualist fantasy undercuts meaningful American discussion of communal and social responsibility. Infectious disease is a perfect lens through which to view the notions of responsibility towards the broader society in which you reside. You don’t choose to be part of the spread of a disease like measles, but you’re implicated in its spread by your actions whether you choose to or not. The only way to opt out of the responsibility to vaccinate is to truly withdraw from the broader society, physically withdraw to the point where you pose no risk of infecting others. A healthier public conception of social responsibility would entail a broadly shared understanding that participation in an economy is no less a matter of exposing others to risk, in just as direct and concrete a way.

Both taxation and capitalism can seem, to those within them, as truly inescapable systems. And unlike a lot of my lefty friends, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to those who complain that, for example, they cannot simply own a house without having to worry that the government will someday come and take them away if they don’t keep up a steady stream of tax payments. The problem is that this frustration is almost never matched with a recognition that capitalism is precisely as inescapable as taxation, and precisely as coercive. I can no more opt out of our system of capital exchange than the libertarian survivalist can opt out of taxation. The confusion, and the hypocrisy, stems from the notion that there is something inherently more chosen in the existence of taxes than of markets. Markets are no more indicative of a state of nature than taxes or regulation. I mean, I get the urge to be seasteader. But most philosophies of seasteading simply presume market exchange as a necessary precondition of survival. Their version of coercion is, I guess, somehow more noble than that of your average government.

I suppose I wish that there really was a frontier out there which we could, if we chose, light out for and leave all these forms of coercion behind, as we also recognized that as we leave behind the tangle of social obligations we also leave behind the systems society has built, both physical (like plumbing and electricity) and moral (the obligation I have to help an injured man in the street, or more to the point, the obligation of others to help me). But suppose the frontier existed: how would I get there? I mean physically, how can you walk away from the system? I might be lucky enough to hitchhike, but I’ll still probably have to buy a sandwich along the way. Meanwhile, the libertarian couldn’t get there without public roads, unless he’s very lucky and has a path to negotiate to the frontier with private landowners. And even then, he’s surely taking advantage of socially-enforced systems of right behavior, such as the one that prevents someone from shooting him on sight for the hell of it. We couldn’t even get to the frontier without being forced to take part in the unchosen systems we are trying to escape.

The point is that in the real world, we’re stuck in this mangle. A market economy is a system of mutual coercion. The lie of conservative politics is the notion that this coercion is only enforced with government agents with guns, when in fact its also enforced by a system that prevents you from eating food if you have no money. In the state of nature, I at least might be able to hunt and forage. I encourage you to try and hunt and forage for sustenance in the real world without running afoul of someone’s private property rights.

What the issue of anti-vaccination should reveal to us on the broad left is that the social and cultural markers that serve as shorthand for political convictions, in this country, fail us when it comes to these more fundamental issues of social responsibility and individual need. I’ve been struck not by the anger my left-wing friends direct at parents who don’t vaccinate their children — that anger is perfectly understandable and justified — but at the particular flavor of this anger. It’s that peculiar American habit of being madder at people that you assume should know better. Barely suppressed in a lot of the online venting I read from progressive types about vaccines is the implicit claim, “I expect this from weirdo rural religious types, but I’m enraged that educated liberals are falling for it too.” It’s the soft bigotry of high expectations.

As Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig puts it today in a piece on just this issue:

“In other words, parents who opt out of vaccines come to their decisions by prioritizing the very virtues American culture readily recommends: freedom of choice, consumer primacy, individualism, self-determination, and a dim, almost cynical view of common goods like public health. If enclaves of anti-vaccination advocates are limited to the rarefied exurbs of California and Oregon, then the prevalence of this neoliberal frame makes all the more sense, as a certain laissez-faire attitude toward matters of mass coordination is associated with wealth and an attendant sense of personal control: Since money affords the wealthy a certain amount of control over their personal affairs, they both experience feelings of control (which may or may not correspond to reality) and feel less concerned with the welfare of others. After all, if one is convinced they can manage their own affairs, why shouldn’t everyone else be able to?”

What particularly frustrates me is that efforts to address this divide between the cultural and social signifiers we tend to associate with political polarization (Prius vs Ford F-150, farmers market vs Walmart) often involve asserting the cultural similarities between crunchy farm-to-table hippy liberals and survivalist home-schooling Christian conservatives. “You know, if you think about it, an Oakland CSA type is a lot like an Orange County anti-taxer….” Instead, the effort should be to admit that these cultural signals are a lousy substitute for politics. As Stoker Bruenig points out, economics are far more in play here than we tend to discuss. What we on the left should admit is that a good portion of those who fund our organizations and drive our conversations are inoculated from the negative impacts when social responsibility fails. And while they can (usually) be relied on to put a penny in the cup for the poor, vaccination is a perfect example of how social responsibility fails to come home to roost for the more affluent side of 21st century progressivism. When you’ve always had the best doctors, why would you worry about your kid getting sick? But then, when you’ve always had a house, it’s hard to intuitively care about whether other people can pay the rent.

This is not to suggest that the affluent can never be left-wing. If we came to that conclusion, we’d just be deciding that an actually winning left-wing political party can’t exist. But hopefully, we can use a topic like the responsibility to vaccinate, with its direct stakes and the profound emotional devastation of the failure to enforce that expectation, as a useful lens to develop a more material, less culturally-inflected vision of a politics of social responsibility. Because we live in a world with people like Chris Christie, and they are always ready to take advantage of our failure to articulate who we really are and what we really value.

55 Comments

  1. The problem is that this frustration is almost never matched with a recognition that capitalism is precisely as inescapable as taxation, and precisely as coercive.

    One does not need to buy a house — which fact keeps realtors up at night. One must pay taxes. Taxes are coercive in ways that capitalism is not.

    1. One must, in fact, live somewhere, in a structure, that one pays to own or occupy, or die. One must, in fact, eat food, that one pays to procure, or die. Capitalism is coercive via the threat of death and is absolutely and unequivocally as coercive as taxation.

      1. Technically any social relations are coercive, then, if we’re defining the lack of assistance as being as coercive as actively seeking to enforce/push something. Which tells you how pointless it is to argue about whether or not something is “coercive” – there’s just varying degrees and types of coercion that may be better in a utilitarian sense than others, the point that Matt Bruenig at Demos has been harping on forever.

        How do you square that with absolutist pacifism?

        1. I’m not talking about lack of assistance as coercive. I’m talking about the denial of access to necessities of life that is violently enforced through property rights. The coercion stems from the need to eat, yes. But it also stems from the injunction “don’t steal from my garden or I’ll shoot you.” That’s why the distinction between positive and negative rights is meaningless.

          1. Why stop at food? If i need a kidney or I will die, and you have a compatible kidney should you be forced to give yours up? After all, i will die if i dont get one.

    2. Capitalism* mostly depends on the ability to exclude other people from using particular resources, which by definition involves coercion. That’s why it’s fundamentally no different from taxes – in both cases, “improper use of resources” is cause for punishment.

      * I say “mostly” because you can have markets and exchange in places where there’s effectively no coercion in the exchange aside from denying people future business if you break the rules, like with online drug markets (such as Silk Road).

  2. It seems like we’re all suffering from a kind of identity driven myopia these days. That as we splinter into smaller and smaller subsets we lose track of the larger communities we all belong to. And I agree that the rifts seem to be as class driven as anything else. I live in Canada so what happens here is often a half speed reflection of what happens in the US, but you can still see the seams cracking all over the place.

  3. Damn. I was hoping you were going to write about the effectiveness of the current contempt campaign in getting parents to actually vaccinate so I didn’t have to.

    1. I think anti-vaxers have always felt the societal contempt once people found out they were anti-vaxers. And for most of them it simply fueled their self righteousness. But I think what they are feeling now is fear.
      I think the real secret behind the anti-vax movement is that they have always believed vaccines work. And they were counting on them working. Their attitude is “you give your kids the vaccine and assume all the risk and I will have my kids be protected against the diseases by the herd immunity your family will provide.” They believed they were creating a Heads I Win/Tails I Win situation. What they forgot about is that for some diseases herd immunity rates have to be very high. The more contagious the disease, the higher the rate to stop an outbreak. What they forgot is that there is already a natural percentage of people who can’t be vaccinated. The very young, the very sick, the immuno-compromised and those with certain allergies. Then you add a capital based healthcare system where doctors tend to congregate away from rural settings and people can’t afford access. Certain religions have very specific disagreements against vaccines so they added to non-vaccinated rate. All those groups bring you very close to the tipping point of herd immunity. I do think anti-vaxers get a disproportional share of the public condemnation because they are the optional portion un-vaccinated herd.

  4. Market exchange is found in almost all times and places before global capitalism … I definitely agree that hunting/foraging is no longer an option in the West, though (and this makes poverty way harder to deal with, now).

    1. Wherever we find markets, we find government, even if it doesn’t call itself that. In the state of nature, there’s no markets; the bigger caveman takes what the smaller caveman has. In order for markets to exist, there has to be a non-profit driven mechanism to enforce the dictates of individual ownership prior to exchange. (If it were profit-driven, the people who were paid to enforce it would simply sell out to the highest bidder, which is another form of the bigger caveman taking from the former.) Now various anarchists and libertarians have come up with all kinds of schemes to perform this function– autonomous collectives and non-coercive intervention and voluntary exchange sites– but they all function as government in the way that matters.

      I believe in a post-state age for mankind. But in the sense of communal responsibilities that exist outside of the profit motive, government will exist, and in fact it has to not only in our imagined collectivist future but very much in our actually-existing capitalist state.

      1. Working Markets arguably need a degree of collectivism, at least in the sense of “it will be good for us all if we compete and some of us temporarily lose as a result of change” – namely, the “pro-market” not “pro-business” position. Without that collectivism, you just end up with the market being carved off into feudalistic special interests and special monopoly privileges, depending on how much power you have within a society.

      2. No no, the cavemen share because otherwise they both die; the bigger caveman can’t ‘own’ more than he can carry anyway.

  5. Christie has again managed to infuriate me. So a registered nurse returning from a heroic and dangerous humanitarian mission from Africa gets thrown in a make shift substandard prison even though she has taken every precaution and is constantly monitoring her health status. But parents can just take their un-vaccinated, un-monitored children to Disney and we just have to hope they don’t happen to sit next to the kid who just finished Chemo and is taking a trip with the Make A Wish Foundation? His nonsensical pandering is a bit pathetic.
    For a long time the Amish in Ohio/Pennsylvania did not get vaccinated. It wasn’t a problem as they were so insular they rarely had an outbreak. But recently even the Amish have started getting vaccines because they are choosing to live more integrated into the community at large. They go on missions, sell produce at Farmer’s Markets, deliver sheds, sell baked goods at grocery stores and all this intermixing has increased their interactions with the larger community. Good for them that the change in behavior instigated a change in attitude.

  6. “I think that nobody should be forced, by governmental power or corporate, to have their children injected with any particular kinds of chemicals or agents. I just think that a refusal to do so should necessitate that those children be barred from entering public spaces, most certainly including public schools.” – 2 Feb 2015

    “Liberals have always argued that to speak of rights in this way is meaningless, that rights have no meaning without the ability to use them.” – 18 April 2014

    What happens to the right to bodily autonomy if exercising it entails being barred from the public sphere?

    1. I think that you should have the right to swing your arm, but not the ability to contact it with someone else’s nose. I think you should have the right to not vaccinate your children, but not for them to pose a literal risk of death to others simply by occupying public space.

        1. You a herd immunity truther?

          “Among the fully vaccinated, the chances of contracting measles are small but do exist; the C.D.C. says the vaccine is more than 95 percent effective.”
          -http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/vaccine-critics-turn-defensive-over-measles.html?_r=0

          1. Nope, all my children are fully vaccinated (over the objection of my wife, i might add). I just oppose hyperbole in place of logic.

        2. Not everyone can get vaccinated, asshole. Don’t even pretend you aren’t, because it’s clearly in the post and everyone other discussion of the issue.

        3. That is not true at all.The most at risk are infants who can’t be vaccinated until they are a year old, pregnant women who can get even a mild case of measles and either lose the pregnancy or give birth to a infant with lifelong disabilities or the the sick like HIV and cancer patients. For those patients even a “mild” form of measles could be fatal.

      1. I think Peter does a good job of highlighting the fact that you, Freddie, have libertarian instincts that are fundamentally at odds with your left wing politics. The vaccination issue puts that incompatibility in stark relief. To reconcile the two you end up having to engage in bullshit that you wouldn’t buy for a second in other contexts. Hell, I’m a moderate squishy liberal, but even I understand that the liberal program, generally speaking, is anti-libertarian. The state necessarily makes people do things against their will. Some of those things may be good, some may be bad. But when they are bad, they are not bad because they infringe “Liberty.” The state always does that, and thank god it does. You can’t govern sensibly with major premises. (Or, as Justice Holmes put it, “general propositions do not decide concrete cases.”) I think to be a liberal means you have to be a grown up and accept responsibility for the fact that, sometimes, people “should be forced, by governmental power . . ., to have their children injected with . . . particular kinds of chemicals or agents” to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Just like a liberal has to accept responsibility for the fact that, sometimes, people need to be put in jail for not paying taxes (which is a far greater imposition on liberty than injection of a measles vaccine).

      2. There Is no right to refuse a vaccination if exercising that right means being barred from entering a polling place or courthouse, barred from going to the grocery store to buy food, denied the ability to speak at or attending a public demonstration, barred from obtaining other medical treatment or refused a public education.

        All of this on top of the fact that we should be wary of instrumentalizing another person’s body. A child’s body is not an apple or a $5 bill or a winter coat, something that we are free to appropriate to social ends based on a political decision without worrying about the pesky problem of consent. The big lie of this post is to equate material possessions with human beings.

        1. “instrumentalizing another person’s body”

          That’s a pretty melodramatic way to refer to a shot that causes slight momentary discomfort and provides substantial health benefits to the child and to the public in general. Framing the issue in abstract, meaningless terms makes the question a lot harder than it needs to be.

        2. Yes, but that makes it even more disturbing. I don’t like this mentality that kids are owned by their parents that Rand Paul was taking about. Really, he owns his kids? Are they pieces of furniture? Parents have been jailed for refusing to provide medical care to children. While the parent is the one who gets to refuse the vaccine, they are not the one who will be coming down with measles or whooping cough.

    2. I think that is his point. Conservatives argue that individuals should be able to do whatever they want and that everyone else just has to deal with the consequences. “I was to not spay or neuter my dog and cat, let them run wild and have the county pay for animal control, shelters, adoption and euthanasia on all the unwanted animals.” Or “I want to buy wasteful packaging, toss even my recyclables in the trash, make my town pay for even bigger landfills while I bitch about high taxes!” or “I want my guns, no questions, licenses, training or mental health assessments allowed and if that means a bunch of 6 year old get wasted by a nutjob, so be it.” Liberals are more of the mindset that choices have consequences and it is your responsibility to mitigate the effects of your choices as much as possible.
      So a liberal view of those issues is that all dogs and cats need to be registered and if you don’t spay or neuter your pet you should be charged a yearly breeding fee to offset the cost of all the unwanted offspring. Or that all items should include as part of the price the cost of disposal. The less packaging and the more easy to recycle packaging has a lower charge than a triple packaged (a bottle in a box wrapped in plastic- for example) non- recyclable item.
      Yes, having your kids be a threat to public safety should have some consequences. And some of them should be born by the ones who made that choice.

    3. What happens to the right to bodily autonomy if one is deprived of it by individuals engaging in behaviors that pose fully understood and utterly unnecessary public health risks to all those around them?

      There has to be *some* tethering to material reality in reasoning about rights, or you’ve just lost the thread and are discussing abstract possible worlds. Epidemiology is not new, has an excellent quantitative toolbox for predicting effects on public health and, overall, an enviably robust record of protecting same. You lower heard immunity for known pathogens, there is a predictable cost.

      Seen in that light, the process of balancing the freedoms of the various parties is clarified and made practical.

      1. The right to autonomy does not equate to a right to be free from harm. If i choose to not vaccinate myself, then i also choose to take the risk of contracting the disease.

        All of this is, of course, setting aside that children dont actually have that choice, either their parents decide for them or the state does.

        1. Sure. And one form that “harm” might take could be: that your freedom is partly curtailed, according to public health regulations, by not being allowed to expose other children to risk as a result of your (parents’) choice.

  7. Vaccination has a very good claim on being a public good. Many other alleged public goods (education, for example) are less convincing.

    It’s probably just my shifting politics, but I’ve come to believe that “conservatives saying dumb things” is less a function of the liberal-tilt of reality than the particular ecology of status liberals and conservatives (contingently, historically) each live within.

    Both liberals and conservatives are gradually becoming dumber as a result.

    1. I dont know if either liberals or conservatives are becoming dumber, or if we just have greater access to dumb liberal and conservative viewpoints. There seems to be no shortage of argument that is of the form “conservatives/liberals believe X, and that is stupid” when, in fact, they mean, some conservative/liberal that i found somewhere online believes x.

      1. It’s not symmetrical, though.

        The role of the university as the central determinant of intellectual status and correct belief, and its function (allied with media and government) as an opposing force to commercial and religious interests, is the reason for this. That is, to be an intellectual in our society is to be liberal left, because the institutions through which intellectual identity is conferred are definitionally liberal, and status in their hierarchies depends on supporting their political role.

  8. “I mean physically, how can you walk away from the system? I might be lucky enough to hitchhike, but I’ll still probably have to buy a sandwich along the way. Meanwhile, the libertarian couldn’t get there without public roads, unless he’s very lucky and has a path to negotiate to the frontier with private landowners. And even then, he’s surely taking advantage of socially-enforced systems of right behavior, such as the one that prevents someone from shooting him on sight for the hell of it. We couldn’t even get to the frontier without being forced to take part in the unchosen systems we are trying to escape.”

    None of those things have anything to do with Libertarianism. I know roads are viewed by those on the left as the perfect counter example as to why Libertarianism is unworkable, but that stems from a gross, often willful misunderstanding of what Libertarianism is.

    Lets look at what wikipedia defines Libertarian as:

    Libertarianism (Latin: liber, “free”) is a political philosophy that upholds liberty as its principal objective. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of individual judgement.[1][2]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism

    Notice that it doesnt say that Libertarianism requires the absence of government. In fact, in order to maximize freedom, you actually need government to protect you from those who would take that freedom away. What you are thinking of is Anarchism, which is a different, in my opinion unworkable, belief system.

    Because of this, there is nothing about roads that inherently are forbidden by libertarianism, being that Libertarianism is concerned with personal freedom and autonomy. In fact, there are schools of Libertarianism that reject the concept of private property, although it think they are also unworkable. Its a strawman to claim that because some Libertarians believe in strong private property rights, that Libertarianism forbids any sort of public property. It does not.

    Likewise, “shooting someone on sight for the hell of it” is is expressly forbidden by Libertarianism, and is one of the legitimate functions of government, preventing violent aggression and punishing it when it happens. Again, Libertarianism is not anarchism. Libertarians believe that government is necessary, at a minimum to protect individual liberty.

  9. MOFO, you write:

    “The only risk of death a non-vaccinated child would pose is to someone who themselves was not vaccinated.”

    This is completely false and reveals a poor understanding of epidemiology on your part. The more host bodies a strand of influenza is active within, the more opportunity that strand has to mutate and evolve. If just 100 humans have a strand of influenza, the chances that this strand mutates into a super-strand which we have no vaccine for is low. If one million humans have that strand of influenza, the chances that the strand mutates into super-strand which we have no vaccine for is very high. This is why the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic was very frightening: the longer that strand of ebola was active within tens of thousands of human bodies, the longer it had to possibly evolve into something which we have no ability to fight.

    If you don’t understand why viral or bacterial diseases can evolve faster when they’re active inside millions, rather than merely dozens, of host bodies, please let me know and I will explain it better. It’s a really key concept and it seems to be one that a lot of people do not grasp.

    1. Thats a bit of a stretch, but ok, ill amend. The largest risk of death a non-vaccinated child would pose is to another non-vaccinated child. I get that there is a greater chance of a disease mutating if more people have it, but Deboer is being hyperbolic when he states “but not for them to pose a literal risk of death to others simply by occupying public space.”

      In the case you mention, the risk of death is not simply by occupying a public space while not being vaccinated, the risk comes about only if you are not vaccinated, get the disease, it mutates and you then give it to others. thats a bit further out than “simply occupying a public space”

      Further, its a stretch to say that a disease mutating is really the fault of the host, even if they could have done something about it. I know tons of people who only go to a doctor if they are really really sick, but i think its a gross overstatement to say that they are responsible for their diseases mutating.

      1. Youre right that Freddie’s “barred from public space” solution would not be sufficient, not by a long shot.

        The rest of your comment concerns moral philosophy: who’s at fault, responsible, etc. But germs have no moral philosophy. The liberal thinking on vaccination is premised on how germs actually behave and how they can be fought. Your thinking about the issue — the libertarian thinking — prefers to shrug off this scientific knowledge as “a bit of a stretch” and reduce the argument to a question of blame, individualism, and so forth, even though such concerns are irrelevant to how germs actually spread and mutate.

        1. Nonsense, i believe that vaccination if a public good, and i am in favor of it. I do not shrug off scientific knowledge as a bit of a stretch, nor reduce the question to one of blame, i was merely responding to what, i feel, was an exaggeration of fact. Deboer claimed that the un-vaccinated “pose a literal risk of death to others simply by occupying public space.” While this is technically true, its also a gross overstatement. Yes, if you have measles you pose a risk to those for which the vaccine did not fully work, and to those who are un-vaccinated and there is a risk that the disease could mutate. However, those risks are small enough that claiming that you risk the literal death of others is borderline dishonest. You could make the same arguments about eating peanuts in public, you risk the literal death of anyone who is allergic to peanuts, but that risk is so small that it borders on the absurd to even mention it.

          1. This is just insane. You do realize that almost the entire indigenous population of the Americas was wiped out by smallpox, right?

            Go read “Guns, Germs and Steel” and tell me more about how tiny and unimportant and shrug-offable the risks associated with infectious diseases are.

          2. The question at hand here is ‘What, if any, risks does one present others if they refuse a vaccination’ Seeing as they were never offered the possibility of getting vaccinated, i fail to see the point, other than shock value.

  10. “The point is that in the real world, we’re stuck in this mangle. A market economy is a system of mutual coercion. The lie of conservative politics is the notion that this coercion is only enforced with government agents with guns, when in fact its also enforced by a system that prevents you from eating food if you have no money. In the state of nature, I at least might be able to hunt and forage. I encourage you to try and hunt and forage for sustenance in the real world without running afoul of someone’s private property rights.”

    You seem to be conflating two things here, market economies and some kind of absolutist private property rights system that doesnt really exist. Markets dont require that every piece of real property be owned by a private individual, hell, you can have a functioning market without private property at all, depending on how your government manages real property.

  11. “The problem is that this frustration is almost never matched with a recognition that capitalism is precisely as inescapable as taxation, and precisely as coercive. I can no more opt out of our system of capital exchange than the libertarian survivalist can opt out of taxation. The confusion, and the hypocrisy, stems from the notion that there is something inherently more chosen in the existence of taxes than of markets. Markets are no more indicative of a state of nature than taxes or regulation.”

    If that would fit on a t-shirt I’d wear it. Maybe because the stripe of right-libertarian I get an earful from the most often uses terms like “Natural Law” as a matter of course when referring to property rights. (You can’t choose your family, as I’m sure you’ve heard.) Taxes are characterized as men coming with guns to take your property, but Pinkertons are just free-market property-rights enforcement agents. Environmental laws are coercive, but being forced to breathe the coal ash from the plant down the road is… I guess just a state of nature? The market will, left to its own devices, weed out the sellers of dangerous products, and somehow people will know which products are dangerous in the absence of any regulatory body to monitor product safety and inform the public because… they’ll just say “Y’know, I think the reason that everybody in my family for three generations has died at 50 from cancer is because of that food additive that I didn’t know I was eating because there are no labels on anything anymore. I believe I will exercise my market power by choosing products without that additive.” And on and on. The concept of negative externalities has to discarded for any of this Austrian School malarkey to make the slightest bit of sense.

    The Vaccine Truthers are just depressing evidence that this kind of myopia isn’t confined to the right wing. The complete unwillingness to think about how one’s individual actions might scale to a broader society is so tied up with our cultural fixation on rugged individuality that it goes beyond Right and Left. Although I have at times considered the cynical suggestion, offered above, that in fact it’s really about allowing everybody else to assume to the miniscule risk of their child having a negative reaction while you reap the benefits of mass immunization for yourself and your family. But that’s an uncharitable interpretation, so I’ll go with Occam’s Razor and just assume that most of the anti-vaxxers are just fortunate enough to have lived in a time after polio and smallpox have mostly been eradicated, and as a result they think a world without those things is a State of Nature.

  12. MOFO, you write:
    “The question at hand here is ‘What, if any, risks does one present others if they refuse a vaccination’ Seeing as they were never offered the possibility of getting vaccinated, i fail to see the point, other than shock value.”
    I had to reread this about 10 times to figure out what you meant grammatically. It finally clicked.

    Actually, the question at hand is “what risks do the unvaccinated present to the human species?” A flu virus does not care whether the reason its host is unvaccinated is because the host previously “refused” a vaccine. Flu viruses don’t read Rand and Nozick and Friedman and Mises; they don’t care about your theories of choice and refusal and responsibility. The planet doesn’t care, the germs don’t care, and our antibodies don’t care.

    But if you prefer a different example, how about polio. Horrible pandemic, which killed or mutilated one ninth of children in the United States during the 1950s. It was utterly destroyed by the discovery of the polio vaccine, as well as by an aggressive top-down campaign to get everyone vaccinated. Luckily, this was at a time when libertarians had no influence over public health policy.

    But now, a half century later, there is still polio in the world, especially in the third world, because many people refuse to take the vaccine. Oftentimes, it is precisely the U.S.’s fault that they’re distrustful of the vaccine, as American intelligence agencies have been using the international vaccine organizations as a front. At any rate, the longer polio is kicking around in millions of human bodies, the likelier that the polio virus mutates into something the polio vaccine cannot stop, and then we all suffer.

    If you need more evidence that diseases mutate and evolve faster when they have a large number of host bodies, look at the example of HIV2, or dengue fever, or the flu itself.

    But sure, write back with your favorite quotes from Hayek or whatever. Don’t bother to read up on the history of epidemiology before forming an opinion about this issue. I’m sure your favorite libertarian philosophers, who never thought about disease vectors a day in their lives, will give you all the epistemic guidance you need.

    1. Wow, you managed to get in what, three or four swipes at what you imagine i must believe, nice work. As i have said before i believe in the efficacy of vaccines and think that the elimination of disease is a tremendous accomplishment.

      Here is the thing, i get why people are reluctant to get vaccinated. Most parents today have never seen polio or smallpox or whatever. Most parents are only dimly aware of the science behind vaccines and even the concept of herd immunity. As i said, i had to have my kids vaccinated over the objection of my wife who couldnt understand why we had to worry about a disease that she had never even heard of, let alone seen.

      You might ask, “then why are you arguing?” The answer is simple, i think the truth matters. We are no longer dealing with smallpox, the current preventable disease making the rounds (measles) has a low mortality rate. The cost of refusing vaccination in this case is actually quite low, despite the hype about ‘risk of actual death’. Having said that, i think the benefit of refusing vaccination is almost zero, there is no good reason not to have your kids vaccinated.

      Here is what is going to happen, the children of the dumbasses that dont vaccinate are going to get measles, then get better and then all the hyperbole being spouted will come back to haunt us. They will say “see, these guys said it was so terrible, but no one died. It was just like when we were kids and got the measles.”

      Even if that werent the case, the truth still matters. I think its wrong to go around saying there is some great risk of death here when there really isnt.

  13. Another day into this vaccination issue and I see that our glorious national discourse is working overtime to shoehorn it into its simplistic left-right matrix. Cable news, blogs, social media, they’re all doing it. As if if they’re actively trying to turn some substantial fraction of the population into anti-vaxxers.

  14. Would it be thread-jacking to ask: What are you going to do about it? Assume you had absolute authority over the government as it exists, or is plausibly likely to exist. How do you propose house-arresting the unvaccinated kids?

    The stronger position (vaccinate them whether the parents like it or not) is even harder to imagine. Are you going to snatch the unvaccinated kids and put them in foster care? Or just snatch them ever few years for the next round of shots? How much would you pay to track down and kidnap these kids, and what success rate at doing so would you expect?

    And, if you recognize the reasonable exemptions that are widely recognized now (immuno-compromised kids, specific allergies), you’ll turn the system into California Medical Marijuana. Which, perhaps that’s satisfactory–anti-vaxxers get to anti-vaxx, everybody else gets to pretend they’re doing something nice for sick people. But, if the point is to minimize unvaccinated children, that approach seems unlikely to do much in furtherance of it.

  15. “The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.”

    Until you can promise we won’t hear that little gem from yet another progressive darling, I don’t think I trust you lot to make anything compulsory.

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