Thursday, April 01, 2021 :::
Suppose that it is agreed that it is within the proper authority of government under current circumstances to place substantial restrictions on people in order to curb the contagion of disease. The purpose isn't --- or certainly shouldn't be --- to torment people, to destroy society, to ruin businesses. The purpose should be to curb contagion and, in particular, hospitalizations and death. Accordingly, if there are large classes of activities that present very low risk of creating contagion, those should be allowed. I think historically the cultural right in particular has recognized arguments like "it's not fair that you're clamping down on high-cost activities but not low-cost activities" as nonsense; indeed, clamping down on low-cost activities in the name of "fairness" is closer to petty vindictiveness than it is to fairness.
This is true of activities, but is also true of people, and there some things do get trickier. When a couple of people come into the country with ebola, we isolate those people, while everyone else largely goes about their business. It makes no sense to restrict people who are known not to be carriers of any disease; what is trickier is when we don't know who is spreading the disease. A fuller test-and-trace system would have allowed better-targeted restrictions; if you can restrict 5% of the population and thereby 90% of carriers of the disease you have to do little else to keep the infection rate down. Perhaps test-and-trace would have worked better with higher state capacity, but I have the impression there was also a fair amount of resistance to it by a lot of the population that was worried about privacy. I feel like we've given up a lot more private control of our lives than we would have if test-and-trace had been effective.
So now we get to talk about "vaccine passports". Some people arguing for a vaccine passport system talk actively as though they want to punish people who choose not to get the vaccine; many more people argue for it as an incentive for people to get the vaccine, which seems less execrable but still to the side of the main point. As evidence accrues that people who are fully vaccinated spread the disease far less than people who aren't, it is simply the case that, at certain levels of case counts, some activities are quite risky (to themselves but also to others) when carried out by some people than when carried out by others. If there are restrictions that make sense, but are unnecessary for people who are vaccinated, it makes sense to make that discrimination.
I have heard a suggestion that it is too early to talk about vaccine passports; this assertion seems to come from the idea that the sole purpose of the passports is to incentivize getting vaccinated, and the observation that demand still exceeds supply. In fact, because I reject that as a particularly good motive for vaccine passports, I think the window of time in which they make sense is in fact likely to close within a couple of months; once case numbers nationally are down below 10,000 per day, things should basically be open regardless of who has been vaccinated, and I'm hopeful that herd immunity will get us there by the end of the summer. The reason to be especially skeptical of vaccine passports now, then, is the permanence of government programs; especially if they are required by governments to engage in various activities, it seems optimistic to think that the restrictions (and privacy costs) will be as curtailed in time as they should be.
::: posted by dWj at 1:11 PM