In some libertarian circles, there has been a rise in a certain narrative in media pieces. It can be videos, Facebook post rants, articles, you name it, and they all share one theme: “calling out” businesses that require their potential customers to wear face masks when inside.
Normally the purpose of the share is to commend the individual confronting the staff or calling those following the business owner’s policy “sheeple,” blind, or ignorant. Now, as a proponent of free speech, I believe that such individuals have the right to create such disturbances, within reason, if they so wish. However, I am concerned at the number of people who seem to believe that this is an inherently libertarian position.
Private businesses have the right to require masks and vaccines for entry
I have considered myself a libertarian for as long as I have been engaged in political discussion and debate, and every time I see a sign asking me to wear a mask inside a shop, cinema, or cafe I rejoice! Why? Because it reminds me of why I am a libertarian: I believe that when left to their own devices, without force from the state, individuals will act in a rational manner that will better us all, at least for the most part!
A business requiring you to wear a mask is no more of an infringement on your liberty than the classic “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs are. Private businesses have a right to refuse service for any number of reasons, and that is a cornerstone of libertarian thinking. Masks do reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and as such, it is reasonable that businesses might seek to encourage such this practice.
What some seem to have forgotten in this discussion is that you can be fully in favor of something while simultaneously being against a government mandate for it. As an anarcho-capitalist, I am of course against government-enforced mandates for masks and vaccines.
The production of vaccines has been a remarkable success
Again, as a libertarian, I view the incredible production of vaccines from pharmaceutical companies across the world as a vindication of my pro-market position. The world was in need, and private companies delivered, with vaccines ranging from 86-95% efficacy.
I see this as a massive win for free markets, for free trade, and for the responsible actions of individuals. When an individual chooses to get vaccinated, not only are they protecting themselves but there is also evidence to suggest that, like with masks, it protects others around them as well.
And yet, increasingly there is a rise of vaccination pushback in libertarian circles. Some of it comes on the back of proposed government policies such as vaccine passports for international travel, or in some cases, even to avail of indoor hospitality services, which I think we can all agree libertarians ought to oppose.
Harassing workers over mask or vaccine requirements is pointless and wrong
Having said that, that is clearly not where the discussion ends for those who go in to harass minimum wage workers about a policy that is not theirs and they have no power to change. I fear that these antics will remain popular, not just around masks but also regarding vaccine requirements.
Some businesses may willingly choose to implement requirements for masks and vaccines voluntarily, giving those who are happy to be vaccinated an increased sense of safety. Other businesses may opt against such requirements, providing choice for those who are not comfortable with taking the vaccine.
Both are valid options that we should welcome as proponents of free markets and the importance of private property, provided these choices are free from government coercion. Unfortunately though, much of the aforementioned pushback seems to be primarily rooted in good old fashioned anti-vax pseudoscience as opposed to libertarian principles.
There is nothing inherently libertarian about positions on vaccines
One way or another, there is nothing inherently libertarian about an individual’s choice on whether or not to get vaccinated and what their preference would be for others. It is to be expected that some libertarians will be anti-vaccine, just as one might expect of a proportion of any unrelated group.
The problem is with the insistence in some quarters that to be in favor of voluntary vaccination is somehow anti-liberty, or that encouraging voluntary vaccination somehow implies endorsement of forced or coerced vaccination. Vaccination, like any other decision an individual might make for their health, is a private and personal decision.
Libertarianism has consistently endorsed individuals’ autonomy to make their own decisions about their health and body, and yes, that includes those decisions which might line up with what the government encourages. I reject the nanny state, not because the “nanny” is always wrong, but because adults don’t need a “nanny” to tell them what to do. So for the sake of our movement, let us please stop conflating the two.
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