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Ebola, Quarantine, and Property Rights

Dr. Block and Scott Lazarowitz make some excellent points about quarantine, however, their focus tends to be on the likelihood that a contagion is spread, the likelihood that it is deadly, the likelihood that a person actually has it, and the efficacy of vaccines. This rapidly devolves into Butterfly Effect land where the Carbon Dioxide I exhale _could_ cause a tsunami in the Philippines. We all carry multiple viruses that may or may not be contagious, that we may or may not be aware of. Therefore, I submit that this line of thinking, while useful, misses a larger point: the use of private property as a buffer to prevent the spread of disease.

Let us first consider the airlines. Why don’t they stop flying to countries with known, active Ebola outbreaks? Why don’t they do additional screening of passengers from such areas or require a quarantine waiting period and increase ticket prices on the far end? If I owned a bunch of 747’s and knew that one or more would be out of commission for weeks of expensive strip and scrub-down to disinfect it due to one passenger, my rates would go up considerably as would my pre-boarding screening. The comments by airline pilots in this telling post seem to indicate the crews are ready to take such an action. Likely, it is politically correct pressure to avoid looking like heartless bigots who have stopped flying to Africa that prevents such common sense measures.

Second, consider the airports and train terminals which are almost all state owned, run, or so heavily regulated as to practically be so. They (as any business or business complex) should be taking measures to screen incoming and outgoing passengers. Contractually they could extend a quarantine for every ticket sold going forward. Want to fly from there to here? When you get here, you’ll be subject to medical screening and quarantined for 3 days. This sounds over the top, but I assure you from first hand experience that Dengue Fever and Yellow Fever are screened by infra-red cameras for every person getting off a flight into Kuala Lumpur and many other Asian airports. You pass the cameras on the way to the passport line, and if you have a fever they pull you aside for medical screening before you enter the country.

Third, consider how a libertarian society with privately owned infrastructure and roads would be different. Quarantine would not aggress against your rights to your person, property, or ability to travel freely, but would be an extension of the property rights of others to exclude you if they suspect you have Ebola. Or for any reason whatsoever. Looks like an outbreak in Dallas? Transport, Inc is shutting down their highways in and out with medical screening areas and additional fees for those who simply must travel. They have a vested financial interest in not contributing to the death of 50% of their 300 Million current and potential clients. Airlines would likely do the same as offered above. All of this would be informed by insurance companies eager to share information about likely risk in order to keep their policy holders alive. Not everyone would get it right. Some people would die. Some businesses would over-react, some under. But the market tries many things and arrives at efficient solutions that maximize the number of people who would not get Ebola.

Some call it quarantine. I call it property rights.

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1:01 pm on October 8, 2014