Saturday, October 25, 2014

NY and NJ Institute Mandatory Quarantines for At-Risk Travelers from Ebola Hot Spots: A Libertarian Perspective

By Robert Wenzel

Govs. Cuomo and Chris Christie have announced that, effective immediately, anyone traveling into Kennedy and Newark airports from countries plagued by the Ebola disease must spend 21 days in isolation at home or hospitals if they had direct contact with patients, reports NyPo.

The new measure far exceeds the self-monitoring recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I am  in favor of this quarantine and believe that something similar would develop in a Private Property Society.

Hans-Herman Hoppe correctly notes, in a different context:
[O]n what grounds should there be a right to un-restricted, “free” immigration? No one has a right to move to a place already occupied by someone else, unless he has been invited by the present occupant. And if all places are already occupied, all migration is migration by invitation only. A right to “free” immigration exists only for virgin country, for the open frontier.
I believe this insight has application to the current Ebola crisis from a libertarian perspective, especially when Hoppe discusses his insight in relation to  "public property" and the state:
 [T]he fact that government property is illegitimate because it is based on prior expropriations, it does not follow that it is un-owned and free-for-all. It has been funded through local, regional, national or federal tax payments, and it is the payers of these taxes, then, and no one else, who are the legitimate owners of all public property. They cannot exercise their right – that right has been arrogated by the State – but they are the legitimate owners...First off: What would immigration policies be like if the State would, as it is supposed to do, act as a trustee of the taxpayer-owners’ public property? What about immigration if the State acted like the manager of the community property jointly owned and funded by the members of a housing association or gated community?
At least in principle the answer is clear. A trustee’s guideline regarding immigration would be the “full cost” principle. That is, the immigrant or his inviting resident should pay the full cost of the immigrant’s use made of all public goods or facilities during his presence. The cost of the community property funded by resident taxpayers should not rise or its quality fall on account of the presence of immigrants. On the contrary, if possible the presence of an immigrant should yield the resident-owners a profit, either in the form of lower taxes or community-fees or a higher quality of community property (and hence all-around higher property values).
Applying this observation to the current Ebola crisis, it is certainly true that the citizenry in general does not want more cases of Ebola to be let loose on the streets of America. That would be a cost on the taxpayers in more ways than one. And since there is no such thing as a "right to unrestricted 'free' immigration," than anyone arriving from Ebola, Africa (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), where the disease is prevalent should be required, at their own cost, to be under monitored quarantine for 21 (42?) days upon on arrival in the United States. This should also hold for American citizens who have visited Ebola, Africa, since again, they have the potential to spread numerous types of  very high costs on the general public if they are infected and travel about in public.

In an ideal Private Property Society, I can envision much the same sort of quarantine rule, no one wants to allow to be brought in to a geographic region where they live such an aggressive disease. Indeed, anyone who is at strong risk of carrying such a disease would be in violation of the non-aggression principle by being out and about in public.

It is really not very different from a blind man shooting a gun in public. He may or not hit anyone by his blind random shooting, but the very act of shooting under such circumstances would need to be stopped. The same goes with those who have a possibility of being Ebola positive. They need to be prevented from wandering about in public.

To be sure, it is always a dangerous thing to call for restrictions on action, but in the case of a blind man shooting or a person potentially infected with Ebola, common sense dictates that action needs to be taken. But recognition must be made that the restriction of actions is always a slippery slope that must be extremely limited.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher at and at Target Liberty. He is also author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics


  1. It seems like it would be common sense for neighborhood contracts to contain provisions regarding the need for voluntary quarantines if there is reasonable suspicion they may have a dangerous disease, and the neighborhood would have the right to use force if they failed to comply with the voluntary quarantine.

    You restrict their movement, but only because they said you could. That should make the morality of it, as opposed to outright involuntarily restriction of movement very clear.

  2. The key to preventing the spread of infectious disease - both in a hypothetical private property order as well as right now - is recognizing and enforcing liabilities. First, commercial and private airlines would clearly be liable if their plane were to crash into a major urban center, and they and their insurance providers would be on the hook for all damages caused by such an incident. Why should it be any different with ebola? If they are knowingly picking up passengers from a high-risk place like Liberia, they should bear liability for anyone who gets sick where they negligently deposited the passenger.

    So the simple answer: sue the airlines, and sue them now! One need not even wait for a case to arise - it would be like a restraining order to say "cease and desist" if there was obvious and known risks from their ongoing business. The only difficulty in our modern world is that the airlines and governments of the world are so deeply in bed that the results of such legal action might be slow to come, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for free market believers to begin filing such lawsuits to demonstrate some action and leadership.

    As for individuals, the same kind of liability should be in effect - if you had engaged in some sort of high-risk behavior (like treating ebola patients in West Africa) or were in a high risk area, or had reasonable evidence that you might be infected and you elected not to quarantine yourself, you should be fully liable for the damages caused by anyone that you might infect.

    Bottom line: it's a liability issue and I think liberty-minded folks would do well to harp on this over and again, as it not only works after the fact, but could easily be used pre-emptively for high-risk situations, and furthermore it could be executed with or without the state.

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