"A Pro-Freedom Approach to Infectious Disease: Planning for the Next Pandemic" is the Ayn Rand Institute's white paper on America's response to the coronavirus pandemic, authored by the Institute's chief philosophy officer, Onkar Ghate. You can read it online below (use the interactive table of contents to navigate) , view a PDF that's suitable for reading online, downloading and printing, or listen in podcast form.
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Our nation’s ongoing response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is not worthy of the leader of the free world. It is not an American response. We can do better in the future by changing our laws to assign government its only proper role in fighting the danger posed by infectious disease.
We need laws that focus government with laser-like precision on its proper goal: to remove the active threat posed by carriers of severe infectious diseases.
Government’s public health goal in the face of a novel respiratory virus like SARS-CoV-2 is to remove the threat posed by carriers of the virus — primarily by testing, isolating and tracking those carriers. Trying to save every life from a novel virus whatever the cost, or to balance some people’s lives against other people’s livelihoods, is not a valid public health goal. Apart from testing, isolating and tracking, government should issue only voluntary guidelines and then leave us each free to take the countermeasures we individually think necessary in the face of the new reality.
To accomplish its proper public health goal, the government must catalog the severity of various infectious diseases and then, for severe infectious diseases, it must have the ability to test, isolate and track contagious individuals. All of this can and needs to be carefully codified into law.
Here are at least some of the (interrelated) factors that are relevant to defining whether an infectious disease warrants legal intervention.
How contagious is the disease?By what means is the disease transmitted?What kind of damage can it do when a person contracts it?How much immunity exists in the population?What preventive countermeasures are known and easy to implement?
The basic issue is to define when coercive action against the carrier of an infectious disease is warranted because the threat he poses to others is significant enough. To focus our federal and state governments on the task of isolating carriers of dangerous infectious diseases, the first step to codify into law, therefore, is government’s responsibility to use objective legal criteria to determine which existing and new infectious diseases warrant coercive legal intervention.
And then governments must execute these laws. In the presence of a potential outbreak of a sufficiently severe infectious disease, governments must purchase or build the capabilities that enable effective testing, isolating and tracking. But this emphatically does not mean that they control testing across the country, or prohibit private labs from deploying their own tests, or decide who can and cannot purchase tests, and the law must make this clear.
We need laws that strip federal and state governments of the power to lock down entire states or even just cities in the name of public health.
Because our existing laws do not prohibit coercive statewide lockdowns, they were too easy a “solution” for our governments to adopt during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. If we really believe, as many state governors seemed to believe during this pandemic, that government’s lawful goal is to minimize at all cost the number of deaths from a new infectious disease, or to somehow “balance” the destruction the infectious disease may cause to people’s lives and livelihoods,