Re: poly: Immunization (was: libertarianism)

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Tue Feb 17 1998 - 13:29:10 PST

Perry writes:
>> There is definitely an externality when people infect each other with
>> contagious diseases. However, if people could cheaply detect when they
>> had been infected and by whom, and if the guilty party could pay damages,
>> then tort law could be sufficient to deal with this externality.
>Why do we care about this side of it? Isn't the other side sufficient?
>If I immunize myself, I will not lose time at work because of illness,
>and will not be damaged by it. I therefore have an incentive to be
>immunized, exactly as I would have a personal incentive to treat
>myself for a disease.

You have an incentive, but the incentive might not be sufficient.
Many people choose not to immunize themselves, which has consequences
for people they come into contact with.

>We have minor little externalities like this all the time, btw. Most
>goods have them. In theory, they are underproduced for this reason,
>but in practice, we don't seem to have a problem. As I noted, I see no
>evidence for a market failure in the vaccination business. Given this,
>why are we concerned?

The question is just how minor this externality is. In practice, we have
extensive government public health programs. You haven't seen the outcome
without them, so you can't say you've seen that it wouldn't be a problem.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Tue Feb 17 21:34:23 1998

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