08 Aug 2014

How Would a Free Society Handle Quarantines?

private law, Shameless Self-Promotion 38 Comments

I tackle this weighty issue at my latest LibertChat post. An excerpt:

In my view, the answer here is not to try to “deduce” the blanket answer from first principles, and declare that in a free society, we would necessarily see either outcome X or outcome Y. Instead, I think we should be humble and acknowledge that one of the supreme virtues of freedom is that its outcomes derive from the contributions and expertise of the millions or billions of people composing the society. We don’t know exactly how a free society would handle a hypothetical outbreak, just like we don’t know how a free society would handle food distribution, education, or transportation.

Not what many of you were expecting, was it? I’m an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

38 Responses to “How Would a Free Society Handle Quarantines?”

  1. Dan says:

    That was pretty much what I would expect from you on something like this. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Your approach in Chaos Theory is brilliant, IMO.

  2. LK says:

    (1) “And if anybody who was actually contagious ended up infecting others because the medical clinic said “Vaccinated,” then that news would quickly spread to the owners of large buildings in the community and they would no longer trust that particular clinic’s database”

    lol.. you mean after there has been a massive outbreak of a contagious disease?

    No longer trusting “that particular clinic’s database” is really going to halt the spread of a pandemic.

    (2) “For example, the owners of the airport might have contractual relationships with contiguous landowners, in which they promise monetary compensation in the event that planes crash into their homes, or if someone with Ebola infects them because they entered the community through that particular airport”

    OK. If I die from ebola, I can always sue?

    (2) “Our current world, filled with monopoly governments, hasn’t eliminated contagious diseases, either.”

    Since nobody has ever said that modern governments have eliminated ALL known contagious diseases, this is an utterly disingenuous point.

    What is ignored here is that both government and international government intervention HAVE eliminated or virtually eliminated some terrible infectious diseases. E.g., smallpox (eliminated), malaria (virtually eliminated), polio (virtually eliminated):


    • gienon says:

      Yes. it was Joe Biden and Nick Clegg working together to rid the world of smallpox.

      • Ken B says:

        Are you disputing LK’s claim about smallpox? Which part, that it was eliminated, or that it was principally a governmentally organized iniative?

    • Enopoletus Harding says:

      Malaria definitely isn’t virtually eliminated, though it’s certainly less common than it used to be.

      • Tel says:

        The use of DDT was virtually eliminated by ever helpful governments.

    • Z says:

      Well, morality doesn’t exist so this whole discussion is moot. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to handle a quarantine. From a practical point of view, however, you could come up with some system.

    • Bala says:

      “Since nobody has ever said that modern governments have eliminated ALL known contagious diseases, this is an utterly disingenuous point.”

      Looks like someone just didn’t get what Bob was saying up there. Bob’s point was that supporters of government and government public health programmes more often than not evaluate the free market response on the yardstick of whether it eliminates or has eliminated the chance of an outbreak of a disease such as Ebola. It is to this point that he offers the observation that their revered government solution hasn’t done that either. The key word is ‘either’.

      Therefore, Bob is saying that such an argument against the free market approach alone would be inappropriate and unfair, and that the real issue is whether freedom is better or State control when such outbreaks occur.

  3. Enopoletus Harding says:

    So say what you will about these areas and why they were vulnerable to the outbreak, but it’s not accurate to claim that they have relatively weak governments.

    -Actually, it may well be accurate. Many court systems in the 3rd world are too slow to resolve cases and many bureaucracies and police departments there are too underfunded to do anything productive. If you look at their budgets, they are usually quite small. Finland and Norway, which have the best protection of property rights, also have very large and very well-funded governments.

    • Dan says:

      “You can claim that the regions are poor, and that therefore their governments don’t have the resources to do what other, richer governments would do in their position–but a major reason they’re poor is that they have relatively intrusive governments.”

      • Enopoletus Harding says:

        You say “intrusive”. I say that this is only partly true; it’s more “inefficient and ineffective”.

        • Dan says:

          I think all States are inefficient. Depending on the subject I think they can be very ineffective, too. I don’t think you’ll find any argument from libertarians on that account.

    • Harold says:

      Intrusive is not the same a powerul. Some aspect of power is the resources at your disposal. These Governments are weak compared to USA. They may have more control, but of a much smaller pie.

  4. Pelafina says:

    Is it considered a violation of the NAP to spew dangerous virus particles in the air while coughing?

    • Bala says:

      I doubt it. Coughing wouldn’t count as conscious, volitional behaviour.

      • Major.Freedom says:

        Unintentional murder, i.e. manslaughter, is a violation of the NAP.

        Aggression need not be intentional for a victim to legitimately use defensive force to stop.

    • George says:

      Yes. Use a mask if you go out in public.

  5. Grane Peer says:

    LK, THE ARTICLE IS ABOUT QUARANTINE. You can define “massive” however you want, one, two, a million. We are constantly told about the tens of thousands that die each year in the United States from a flu outbreak. In a free market without regulation there would be no desire to eliminate the spread of disease? Give us a break. I am dearly sorry you have been blacklisted from your local TS escorts but unless you want to offer some useful criticism go somewhere else to wage your war against reality.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Hey Grane, I don’t get the “local TS escorts” but I’m guessing that’s not a scholarly reference. LK is not someone I would hire to tutor my son but let’s keep it civil please.

      • Grane Peer says:

        Mr. Murphy, I am dearly sorry that I’m not sophisticated enough to be invited to your fancy dinner parties. The fact remains, however, that I have learned that there is simply no benefit to myself to attempt meaningful dialogue with those who will never reciprocate. If anyone else finds themselves as disappointed as I am in the utter lack of give and take from our detractors, I offer my comment for humor not malice. After all as a libertarian I make no judgement on people for desiring the company of TS escorts but what indeed would one have to do to be blacklisted by them.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          That’s understandable, Mr. Peer, but I don’t want the blog comments to be a slugfest between LK and his minions versus the Hobbits and Gandalf. I can’t very well tell LK to chill out if I ignore it when people on “my side” launch insults.

          • Grane Peer says:

            Dr. Murphy, I just realized I have been addressing you as Mr. Mea culpa.

            • Dan says:

              Mr. Mea culpa is a twitter handle

              • Grane Peer says:

                Thanks Dan, There is a lesson here.

              • Dan says:

                *is a great twitter handle

    • Bob Roddis says:

      I’m as sick as anyone of LK’s Same Lame old Schtick. Note that this main tactic is to ignore and deflect the “operational reality” (I got that from the MMTers) of voluntary cooperation vs. statist diktats which MUST reflect a LACK of voluntary cooperation (or otherwise people would just do what they ought to do). If a vast majority of people want to do something, they will. They do not need to vote for a clown sociopath politician to effectuate their will.

      Note also that LK and all of the statists ignore and deflect the source of knowledge and wisdom in society. Somehow, average people are too stupid to deal with plagues and “endemic” business cycles of the “free market” but are smart enough to vote for an overlord to do the right thing for them after they have given up their right to property and enforceable contracts.

      Finally, the statists refuse to understand that once a society has given up its right to the safety of property and contract to an interventionist democratic government, that winning mob can basically do anything with anybody and anybody’s property. The policies of democratic economic interventionism that the “west” has inflicted upon Africa and Iraq have CAUSED the slaughter that has resulted. In such situations, voters ALWAYS vote ethnic and the largest group then basically owns the country. Of course, the “progressive” statists never take responsibility for this (and clueless Republicans can’t understand it either).

      • Major.Freedom says:

        Even if democracy doesn’t result in Philosopher Kings in charge, any anarchist argument will nevertheleses be percieved by LK as an affront or rejection of them. Then we are told average people are too stupid to take care of themselves, which is communicated as “you anarchists believe in magic” rhetoric.

  6. Tel says:


    Callinan Report

    Former judge Ian Callinan was commissioned to undertake an investigation into the EI outbreak. His findings were released on 12 June 2008 in a scathing report, in which Australia’s quarantine system was described as “inefficient, underfunded and lacking diligence”. The new Agriculture Minister Tony Burke promised that all 38 of the report’s recommendations would be implemented, and that a “massive change” in the culture of the quarantine service should occur. The federal government also appointed Professor Peter Shergold to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations over 2009-2010.

    • Tel says:

      Same outbreak, story told by the NSW Department of Primary Industry:


      The outbreak that eventuated was the most serious emergency animal disease Australia has experienced in recent history. At its peak, 47,000 horses were infected in NSW on 5943 properties, and horse owners and industry workers were facing dark times with major impacts on their livelihood and lifestyle.

      The campaign led by NSW DPI to eradicate the disease was the largest of its type ever undertaken in Australia, using the latest laboratory, vaccine, surveillance, mapping and communication technologies.

      The disease was eradicated within six months well ahead of predictions and by July 2008 horse industry operations had returned to normal.

      So in conclusion, the correct method to achieve highly effective quarantine is to be the person who writes the story afterwards.

      Churchill of course said it better:

      History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

  7. Bala says:

    I read just the excerpt and thought it was beautifully put. Thanks.

  8. Bob Roddis says:

    The answer is obvious. Since there would be no roads under AnCap, peope wouldn’t be able to move around and infect each other. Since there would be no roads, people wouldn’t be able to go to work and infect each other. Duh.

  9. AcePL says:


    Not to be the guy to rain on somebody’s parade, but I see a flaw in the argument.

    Quarantine is at best temporary solution. In and on itself, it will never work. It is used to SLOW the progress of the disease for just enough time to immunize the rest of the population. So typically quarantine goes (or should) hand in hand with RING IMMUNIZATION. As a first step only. Then is vaccinating the rest.

    Forced immunizations are clear violation of NAP. Especially when vaccine has usually one-digit probability of infecting vaccinee. On the other hand… at this point there are millions at stake. Especially when -i.e. Ebola – is an airborne organism, but you don’t have to inhale it to get infected.
    So, since no one can guarantee the house is clean (microbiologically speaking) what is the other route? And, since one can infect others without knowing one’s sick?
    Clear cut case?
    I don’t know. Anybody?

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