November 17, 2020

Those who know me, know that I’m generally sceptical of the idea that stringent COVID-19 lockdowns will prove worthwhile in the long run, when the economic and social costs are tallied and weighed against the COVID-19 deaths prevented.

For example, it looks as though New Zealand spent 190x the norm for every QALY (Quality Adjusted Life Year) saved during the pandemic, resulting in massive national debt.

However, one thing that is clear is that a legitimate Government has the right to impose a quarantine. As Rand put it (hat tip Peter Cresswell):

The next question in regard to quarantine is somewhat different, because … if someone has a contagious disease, against which there is no inoculation, then the government will have the right to require quarantine. What is the principle here? It’s to protect those people who are not ill, … to prevent the people who are ill from passing on their illness to others. Here you are dealing with a demonstrable physical damage. Remember that in all issues of protecting someone from physical damage, before a government can properly act, there has to be a scientific, objective demonstration of an actual physical danger. If it is demonstrated, then the government can act to protect those who are not yet ill from contracting the disease; in other words, to quarantine the people who are ill is not an interference with their rights, it is merely preventing them from doing physical damage to others.

I believe that this also extends to the right to impose a broader lockdown, if it’s a legitimate means of controlling a pandemic (which I think has been clearly demonstrated in the case of NZ and Australia). As Rand put it (with respect to pollution, but it holds in the general case):

If the condition is collective, such as in an overcrowded city, appropriate and objective laws can be defined, protecting the rights of all those involved—as was done in the case of oil rights, air-space rights, etc. But such laws cannot demand the impossible, must not be aimed at a single scapegoat, i.e., the industrialists, and must take into consideration the whole context of the problem, i.e., the absolute necessity of the continued existence of industry—if the preservation of human life is the standard.

From this I think that a lockdown can, at least in principle, be an entirely legitimate Government response to a pandemic.

In recent years I’ve been distressed to see many self-described Libertarians abandon reason for racism (the alt-right), anarchy (anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests), and general lunacy (QAnon, anti-vaccination, 5G conspiracy theories, etc.).

It’s getting so the term Libertarian is like the Astra VXR, the subject of much mockery on the late, great, Top Gear. With a VXR you have to explain yourself; “I drive an Astra, but it’s the good model that makes 200HP!”. These days, Libertarianism needs a similar rider. Perhaps I should have some badges made …