Your Consequences ≠ My Guilt

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Jeff Jacoby is understandably quite upset with the large numbers of people who people who will not avail themselves of vaccination against the coronavirus:

I agree that voluntary choices should have consequences. If you don't pay your Internet bill and the service gets shut off, your neighbors aren't going to cover for you. If you invest in a company that fails, the loss comes out of your pocket. If you run a red light and cause an accident, you're on the hook for the damage you caused.

So if you insist on not getting vaccinated, shouldn't you be prepared to bear the costs -- all the costs -- if you get sick? And if you can't afford those costs, shouldn't you be out of luck? [bold added]
This follows on the heels of comments Jacoby cites to the effect that the air is thick with calls for the heads of the "vaccine hesitant" in such forms as higher insurance rates and possible lower priority for treatment of their covid cases, should they require hospitalization at a facility with strained capacity.

He has a point, but if you think he is seizing a moment ripe to call on leftists to examine the injustice of social welfare policies more generally, you will be very disappointed.

Let's continue:

In my household, everyone has been fully vaccinated for months. I have little sympathy for anti-vaxxers whose defiance of common sense is prolonging the pandemic and delaying the day when we'll be free of masks and other aggravations of COVID life. But denying needed health care to punish someone for making unwise choices is terrible public policy. [bold added]
If I want to sell my services as a painter and you want me to paint your bookcase. Am I "punishing" you by refusing to do so if you can't or won't meet my asking price? Indeed, is it even correct to say I am "denying" you my services when you haven't the right to them?

No. I am not your slave, and you must trade with me to mutual benefit before I will help you. And Third Party Tim isn't a slave, either: He certainly shouldn't be made to make up the difference.

Jacoby does not offer a reason for claiming that a physician is "punishing" a sick person who, through lack of foresight, finds himself unable to pay for the services of a medical professional.

And while I would agree that there is no need for the state to punish stupid actions that harm nobody but the stupid person, I take issue with the idea that not enslaving physicians is "terrible public policy." And slavery is exactly what Jacoby is talking about here, in the form of coercing a doctor to work for less than he would charge, or even to associate with a customer he does not want. Or forcing the rest of us to pay, for that matter.

So if Jacoby doesn't offer a reason for asserting that people who accept medical risks shouldn't face consequences, what does he offer?
Image by Les Anderson, via Unsplash, license.
For most people, refusing the vaccine is indeed a bad decision. But since when do we turn away patients -- or saddle them with stiff additional costs -- on the grounds that their own recklessness caused their sickness or injury? Are those prepared to slam the hospital door in the face of the unvaccinated prepared to do the same to the injured motorcyclist who wasn't wearing a helmet? To the liver-transplant patient who drank to excess? To the hurricane victim who refused the call to evacuate? To the junk-food eater who never exercised and now needs bypass surgery? To the person who caught chlamydia or HIV during unprotected sex?
Regarding medicine, Jacoby plainly accepts the idea in these situations of from each according to his ability to each according to his need, and he is trafficking in the unholy mire of fear, unearned guilt, and the hope for a free lunch that saturates religious services each week. There but for the grace of God go I.

That is utterly contemptible.

The fear is unjustified: Note the number of avoidable follies Jacoby lists here. We can learn form the follies of others and avoid those follies altogether or hedge our bets. Wear a helmet on your motorcycle -- or face the consequences. Don't drink too much -- or face the consequences. Don't jump into bed with people you barely know or don't trust -- or face the consequences. The consequences -- of ignoring widespread knowledge -- in these cases can include: illness, injury, death, dependence on the charity of others, or -- Heaven help us! -- higher insurance premiums.

So much of what Jacoby is scaring us with is under our own control. It's nothing to be afraid of for ourselves, and the foolishness of others is not something "we" should feel guilty about, let alone demand or force (!) the virtuous to make up for. I won't dignify the premise of wanting a free lunch with a reply.

Just because "we" currently use medical professionals to coddle bare-headed motorcyclists, dipsomaniacs, amateur prostitutes, and the like does not make that right. And appealing to such because it is a longstanding practice is ridiculous. Not too long ago, chattel slavery was a near-universal practice as old as history itself. Everyone does it and We've always done it that way are not moral arguments.

Indeed, the very paragraph Jacoby uses to try to evoke compassion for people who refuse to get vaccinated points to the solution to that and many other problems, if only people did not assume that one man's need is a claim on the life of another: A free society -- including for the medical profession -- in which everyone must trade to mutual benefit naturally punishes foolishness and rewards virtue.

The only risk anyone has the right to take is his own: This means the unvaccinated should face whatever consequences follow from their decision. They are not entitled to treatment they can't afford, nor, correspondingly, are they entitled to infect others deliberately or out of negligence -- a point well made by the Ayn Rand Institute in its white paper, "A Pro-Freedom Approach to Infectious Disease." There are proper government solutions to this problem, but the only people at risk of coercion are those who knowingly or negligently infect others or who pose a risk of infection to others. That is as it should be.

Rather than waste our mental energy being annoyed at the people we like to think are prolonging the pandemic -- and wasting even more by twisting ourselves into pretzels justifying shielding them from their own carelessness at the expense of the medical profession -- we should stop to ask one question about the destructive idea that we owe someone something simply because they suffer misfortune (and emphatically when they are its own authors).


Those who do will find that there is no reason on earth for the idea that one man's misfortune is a claim on another's property or effort. And they might even conclude that it is in fact "we" who have acted on this premise for so long -- and not actually "the unvaccinated" -- who have kept the pandemic dragging on.

-- CAV

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