Much of the socio-economic damage linked to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted from poor regulation: the coronavirus would certainly have caused much less damage in contexts more respectful of the principle of individual responsibility. Unfortunately, poorly conceived regulation continues to lead to more and more state intervention, in a spiral that produces unsatisfactory results and constrains individual freedoms.
The latest example is the debate that broke out across Europe following French President Macron’s announcement. In short, he is going to make the ‘green pass’ a prerequisite to enter a range of public places such as restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres and long-distance trains. This is clearly a patent encroachment on individual freedom. Governments that side with Macron’s proposal believe that a mandatory green pass is necessary. Yet, this is not the case (or at least it would not be, if state intervention were much more limited) for two reasons.
Certainly, before the introduction of the mandatory green pass, those who manage hotels, guest houses etc., could not do what has now become compulsory, namely discriminate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated guests. The European legislation on privacy prevents hotel and restaurant managers from asking their patrons about health data. However, greater freedom to exchange this kind of information would lead to faster adaptation to a changing environment, with no need to introduce blanket rules that do not let operators and clients free to choose how to behave and follow their preferences.
If they were at liberty to do so, several establishments in the tourism industry might spontaneously decide to admit only people who have been vaccinated, or immune, or tested negative in the days immediately before. This choice might indeed appeal to a relevant number of customers who for some reason prefer to choose places of public accommodation that offer a totally covid-free experience. By contrast, other venues would accept everyone, immune and non-immune alike: those who no longer fear the virus and those willing to take risks. These establishments would lose the clients only interested in a fully covid-free experience, but would cater to many others, including those without the green pass.
Of course, allowing for interaction between possibly infected people would likely lead to a surge of Covid infections, and the rate of occupancy in intensive and sub-intensive care units might again rise significantly. This is why governments are introducing the mandatory green pass. However, critical conditions in the health-care system materialise because of a second, considerable interference in the free-market order, namely the fact that health-care systems are run by the government. In a free-market context, those who know that they will have to bear the costs of hospitalisation would be encouraged to get vaccinated or stay away from potentially dangerous environments. Similar comments would apply to those covered by an insurance policy. Of course, in this context those who prefer not to get vaccinated will be allowed to do so, but will have to face the cost of their decisions. In brief, market incentives would take care of the health-care problem.
Moreover, dealing with health workers unwilling to get vaccinated would also be easier in a free-market context: contracts would probably include a vaccination clause for the employees, which they would be free to accept or to reject. It would simply be a matter of private labour relations, consistent with the freedom-of-contract principle.
In today’s societies, where the exchange personal data is heavily regulated and medicine is largely socialised, the blanket introduction of a green pass requirement seems inevitable. In fact, it is not. It is just one more constraint generated by previous layers of state interference: it is a disease that unfortunately tends to spread as quickly and pervasively as many viruses.
Photo by Fabian Kurz