Re: poly: Immunization (was: libertarianism)

From: Perry E. Metzger <>
Date: Tue Feb 17 1998 - 15:06:18 PST

Robin Hanson writes:
> Perry writes:
> >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.

That, of course, is the standard argument in a public goods
discussion: that the externalities mean that even if the good is being
produced, it is being "underproduced".

I'm not sure I buy it, though, and for two reasons.

1) I can fully protect my entire family by immunizing them, after
   which I no longer need care about what other people do. This leads
   me to believe that I personally needn't care if the good is being
   "underproduced", in sharp contrast to the situation with, for
   instance, a missile defense system, for which a cheap personal
   solution isn't available. In other words, I have an incentive to
   interfere with other people to get missile defense, but very little
   in the immunization case.
2) Most people actually *do* protect their entire families. Before the
   U.S. government started interfering, something like 80% of
   U.S. children were already being immunized. (I'm remembering that
   from a NY Times article, btw -- I didn't look it up, so I might be
   off. Assuming I remembered right, though, thats sufficiently high
   that I don't think one has a reasonable expectation of getting
   substantially higher rates even via coercion.)

> Many people choose not to immunize themselves, which has consequences
> for people they come into contact with.

Not, of course, if they are immunized. An immunized person does not
care if a non-immunized person comes into contact with them.

> >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.

As I noted, vaccination has been around a long time, and we do know
what statistics were like pre-intervention, and I believe they were
already very high. The primary cited reason for implementing the
programs was to protect "the poor" from disease, btw, and not to
protect the mass of the public.

Received on Tue Feb 17 23:19:32 1998

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