The Crucial Distinction Between Choice and Coercion
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “anti-vaxxer” as “a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination.” Where does that leave us? We both strongly favor vaccination against Covid-19; one of us (Mr. Hooper) has spent years working and consulting for vaccine manufacturers. But we strongly oppose government vaccine mandates. If you’re crazy about Hondas but don’t think the government should force everyone to buy a Honda, are you “anti-Honda”?
The people at Merriam-Webster are blurring the distinction between choice and coercion, and that’s not merely semantics. If we accept that the difference between choice and coercion is insignificant, we will be led easily to advocate policies that require a large amount of coercion. Coercive solutions deprive us of freedom and the responsibility that goes with it. Freedom is intrinsically valuable; it is also the central component of the best problem-solving system ever devised.
These are the opening two paragraphs of David R. Henderson and Charles L. Hooper, “Coercion Made the Pandemic Worse,” Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2021 (December 28, 2021 print edition.)
I’ll post the whole thing on January 27, 2022, when my agreement with the WSJ allows me to.
I’ve had a lot of fun this morning responding to commenters on the WSJ site.
One commenter said:
These authors compare choosing whether or not to get vaccinated with whether or not to buy a Honda. Completely inapplicable comparison.
Vaccination during a public health emergency is NOT merely a personal choice – never has been. That’s why George Washington successfully forced all his troops to receive the primitive smallpox inoculation in January 1777 and why the US Supreme Court in the historic Jacobson vs. Massachusetts case upheld compulsory vaccinations — for the good of the American public.
Choosing a Honda has almost no effect on the health of your neighbor. Choosing whether or not to get vaccinated will almost certainly have an effect.
He didn’t get it.
Commenter Justin Sauerwein replied beautifully:
Assuming your response is genuine, you did not understand the article at all.
The authors did not compare Honda to anything, they take issue with Webster’s definition that conflates two different things (“blurring the distinction between choice and coercion”) and used Honda to illustrate the concept.
The last several paragraphs deal with the problem of externalities in matters of public health and why coercion (including vaccination) is not optimal.
I replied to another commenter who showed very little reading comprehension. For that reason, I won’t name him. This commenter wrote:
Do we know these two authors are vaccinated or not ?
They don’t reveal
But judging from their education level and age
they are vaccinated, and boosted
and yet, they encourage others NOT to do what is best to stay safe
these tow [sic] authors just have to do what is best to earn their paychecks, via viewpoints of (anti-science) conservatives
So when we wrote, “We both strongly favor vaccination against Covid-19,” that didn’t tip you off that we would encourage others to be vaccinated?
I thought of another response just now dealing with the commenter’s claim that we “just have to do what is best to earn [our] paychecks.” I’ll share it here. When the commenter read, assuming he did read, the statement in the first paragraph, “one of us (Mr. Hooper) has spent years working and consulting for vaccine manufacturers,” did he think that Charley wasn’t earning a paycheck for helping vaccine manufacturers? Surely he must have understood that consultants almost always get paid. And does he think that “encouraging others NOT to do what is best,” in this case, presumably, getting vaccinated, would be a good way to earn a paycheck from vaccine manufacturers?