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brian0918

A plague hits an Objectivist society

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Suppose an idealized Objectivist society is hit by an incurable plague that kills within a week.

1. What, if anything, would the government be in charge of doing?

2. Would quarantines be voluntary or mandatory?

3. Would an infected individual who refuses to let anyone interfere with his daily life be free to roam around his city, infecting other people?

4. If yes to 3, wouldn't such an individual be jeopardizing everyone else's right to life?

Thanks in advance.

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Remember that in a capitalist society, all property is private. Presumably, most people would not want someone carrying a deadly infectious disease to come onto their property. In fact, the law could presume that any such person is a danger per se, just like someone running around wearing an explosive vest. Therefore, unless the property owner gives prior consent (for example, a hospital or medical lab), the police could take pre-emptive measures to contain sick individuals.

Edited by GreedyCapitalist

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1. What, if anything, would the government be in charge of doing?
Protecting the rights of individuals. That would most likely mean protecting people from roaming vigillante lynch mobs.
2. Would quarantines be voluntary or mandatory?

3. Would an infected individual who refuses to let anyone interfere with his daily life be free to roam around his city, infecting other people?

A quarantine has to be relative to public property which is not owned by an individual, and there is no right to evict a person from private property if the person is there with permission. The property owner also has a duty to reveal that his property houses infected persons so that others can decide whether to enter the property or not. The government would have the right to prosecute a property owner who suppressed such a material fact.

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For starters remember that being hit with a deadly plague is not the normal state of affairs for Man.

Emergencies are situations far out of the ordinary (most buildings don't burn, most people traveling in cars don't ahve accidents, etc). During an emergency, therefore, normal rules don't apply. Consider a war. That is a kind of emergency situation, too, albeit one of long duration. Would you say the government didn't have a right to monitor communications between Americans and Germans?

Now, if a deadly, highly contagious plague were to hit, one would expect rational people to take steps to avoid contagion, and would support any government efforts that would help them achieve such a goal.

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3. Would an infected individual who refuses to let anyone interfere with his daily life be free to roam around his city, infecting other people?

An individual with a highly contagious, deadly disease should not be free to walk around exposing others to his fatal germs anymore than an individual should be free to stroll around spraying bullets everywhere with his AK-47. Individuals have no such rights to jeopardize others.

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Suppose an idealized Objectivist society is hit by an incurable plague that kills within a week.

1. What, if anything, would the government be in charge of doing?

2. Would quarantines be voluntary or mandatory?

3. Would an infected individual who refuses to let anyone interfere with his daily life be free to roam around his city, infecting other people?

4. If yes to 3, wouldn't such an individual be jeopardizing everyone else's right to life?

The first question I would have is why would this be an interesting way to test Objectivism. This falls again into the case of the "fantastic hypothetical". The answer is that even a semi-capitalist society that is moderately free is able to extinguish the commonality of plaques in as little as a century. Beyond what such a society would then do in the miniscule possiblity that one were to occur, this fact alone is the true test of capitalism. The heart of the issue isn't the answer to your question.

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Actually, it would be inapplicable. How would the prescriptions of that essay be applicable to this scenario?
! I didn't even check the essay to make sure it applied! I just assumed that an essay titled "The Ethics of Emergencies" would apply to an emergency...didn't remember that the main subject of the essay was a different kind of emergency.

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! I didn't even check the essay to make sure it applied! I just assumed that an essay titled "The Ethics of Emergencies" would apply to an emergency...didn't remember that the main subject of the essay was a different kind of emergency.

It's not that it's a different kind of emergency. The difference is that essay deals with putting your life in jeopardy for others in an emergency situation. If the question of this thread were: "would it be morally justifiable to volunteer to monitor a quarantine, knowing that your life would be endangered?" (or some similar) then "The Ethics of Emergencies" would apply.

I think the original question could be restated as "Does the state have the right to use force against those who unknowingly or unwillingly endanger others' lives?" I believe the answer has to be yes.

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I think the original question could be restated as "Does the state have the right to use force against those who unknowingly or unwillingly endanger others' lives?" I believe the answer has to be yes.
If that is indeed the question. The original question could also be restated as "Does the state have the right to use force against people who openly and with consent expose others to disease, for the good of society", then the answer has to be know. The key is that in an ideal society governed by objective law, there would be relatively little "public property". The government certainly wouldn't have the right to invade private property to remove sick people who were there with the knowledge and consent of the owner. So I guess it depends on what you think the question really is.

It's kinda like the right of the state to prevent people from driving really fast, thereby endangering others. It's properly the decision of the guy who owns the road.

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If that is indeed the question. The original question could also be restated as "Does the state have the right to use force against people who openly and with consent expose others to disease, for the good of society", then the answer has to be know. The key is that in an ideal society governed by objective law, there would be relatively little "public property". The government certainly wouldn't have the right to invade private property to remove sick people who were there with the knowledge and consent of the owner. So I guess it depends on what you think the question really is.

It's kinda like the right of the state to prevent people from driving really fast, thereby endangering others. It's properly the decision of the guy who owns the road.

A little offtopic, but if all of the roads are private property as would be the case in this ideal society, how would the government go about getting to the location(s) where an infected individual is running amok infecting others? They wouldn't simply be able to use those roads freely without the consent of the various property owners, correct?

In other words, how does the government get from point A to B when inbetween these two points are countless strips of privately-owned road, none of which they can access without an owner's consent.

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They wouldn't simply be able to use those roads freely without the consent of the various property owners, correct?
There's a general principle here, namely when the government may violate the rights of others in order to protect the rights of others. For example, the police do not require the permission of a property owner to enter a building and stop a rape. They do require the owner's permission to come in and snoop around, unless the court finds that there is a probable reason to allow this transgression of property rights (and that should be in terms of needing to do so to protect the rights of an individual). It's a separate question whether the police should be exempt from the ordinary requirement to pay for things that are paid for, or should they get free access, but I think that just as they have to pay for gas and bullets, they should in general have to pay like the rest of us.

With private ownership of roads, it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone would have to cross countless strips of land and negotiate pemission to to continue for 30 feet, ad nauseum. More likely (contemplating the question technologically) the car would have an RFID tag, and billing would be automatic and monthly.

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With private ownership of roads, it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone would have to cross countless strips of land and negotiate pemission to to continue for 30 feet, ad nauseum. More likely (contemplating the question technologically) the car would have an RFID tag, and billing would be automatic and monthly.

The implication of this is that only today with RFID tags has it been possible to have widespread private ownership of roads. In 1900 (say) this would have been impossible. If that's the ONLY way a private road could possibly work, then it would have to have been a government function until fairly recently.

More likely road companies would simply own the whole right of way, much like railroads. I can imagine this sort of system for "freeways" (limited access roads, easy to toll), and neighborhood streets could belong to the neighborhood association. Shopping malls oftentimes already own the surrounding access roads.

I'm not sure how private ownership would have worked for arterial city streets (i.e., the big four or six lane roads every mile or so, the overwhelming majority of people on them are passing through but turning often enough that tollbooths would be impractical).

Again we could handle this TODAY with RFIDs, but how would it have been handled 50 years ago? There must have been a way, or suddenly the moral is the impractical.

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More likely road companies would simply own the whole right of way, much like railroads. I can imagine this sort of system for "freeways" (limited access roads, easy to toll), and neighborhood streets could belong to the neighborhood association. Shopping malls oftentimes already own the surrounding access roads.

This sounds like the much more likely option, but it seems like without the technology you would still run into complications that would require the private company to own the entire city or state or country's roads to alleviate these problems, and that would eliminate competition. This is sounding more and more like the fire brigade scenario, where it is basically safer and easier for the private fire company to handle the entire city's services, and the city would tax (voluntarily?) to pay for the service.

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I have written a scenario for how a private road system might work here: http://www.rationalmind.net/2005/01/05/private-roads/

While the system sounds interesting, it relies on technology not even available in Rand's time. Are you suggesting that an ideal Objectivist society could not have existed until the development of electronic systems utilizing tiny radio transmitters?

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While the system sounds interesting, it relies on technology not even available in Rand's time.

It makes use of them, but does not rely upon them. David's developer-lead idea would have worked perfectly well in the 19th century, for example. Indeed, back then things would have been even easier to arrange as there were fewer utilities to be concerned with. The second half of his article does not even require any reference to modern technology whatever, and could just as easily have been implemented in Rome or Babylonia as today. All that it needs is the right legal and social systems, recognising property and contract rights.

As to the general topic of government provision of various services, you might be interested to know that the lighthouse system was private in Britain for a while, and successfully so. Ronald Coase noted (ch 7, pp187-213) that the lighthouse issue was frequently used as an example of 'market failure' and why governments ought to involve themselves in markets for some 'public' goods. He pointed out that various ports were in competition with each other for docking fees, so themselves paid for the upkeep of lighthouses either by owning their own or paying fees to the agents of independent lighthouse operators. There was no problem at all getting funding, the lighthouse operators were making money hand-over-fist and there were frequent applications to the UK government by investor groups seeking permission to build more of them. Coase even noted that had private profit not been involved certain lighthouses would not have been built anywhere near as soon as they had were it left to public authorities. The private system was brought to an end, in a convoluted manner via a medieval charity-guild claiming monopoly rights and other means, because of anti-profit sentiment and a bit of a control-freak mentality applied in the service of national chauvinism.

JJM

Edited by John McVey

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