Reason Magazine article advocates forced vaccination

NOTE:  This article has been updated.  Updates will appear sequentially towards the bottom of the article.


One aspect of the police state that I find particularly bothersome is forced drugging.  We see this manifest in a variety of situations, usually involving children whose parents question their doctors or want to pursue alternative health care solutions.  Being a complicated and emotional issue, many people end up siding with the courts in pursuit of mandatory medication.  While this position is to be expected from the average statist, it is somewhat alarming when a well-known and respected publication like Reason Magazine comes out in favor of forced mass-drugging of the population, or as it was gently termed, “coercive vaccination.”  These ideas, promoted under a pseudo-libertarian shroud, cannot go unrebuked.

Reason is 45-year old magazine, traditionally promoting the libertarian cause, which has published a lot of thoughtful and compelling work over the years.  It has a large following of readers, of which I have included myself for some time.  Yet, it seems that there is a faction of the staff that is promoting a contentious view of “liberty” when it comes to certain topics regarding science.  One blogger, with the consent of a sympathetic editing staff, is so adamant about promoting the consensus of mainstream scientists that he believe that it should be mandatory for all.

Police State USA will attempt to expose these dubious arguments and set the record straight about libertarianism.

Ideas So Good They Have to be Mandatory

Ronald Bailey, the self-described “science correspondent,” recently wrote a piece which has raised a lot of eyebrows, titled: Refusing Vaccination Puts Others At Risk: A Pragmatic Argument for Coercive Vaccination.   He goes on to argue in no uncertain terms that he not only believes that coerced medicine is libertarian, but that there is no libertarian argument for declining a vaccine.

Bailey’s article is heavy on irrelevant statistics and light on actual libertarian arguments.  The article, which asserts that liberty is incompatible with vaccine refusal, can be condensed into the following three sentences; the only places that liberty is mentioned at all:

Oliver Wendell Holmes articulated a good libertarian principle when he said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”…. To borrow Holmes’ metaphor, people who refuse vaccination are asserting that they have a right to “swing” their microbes at other people. There is no principled libertarian case for their free-riding refusal to take responsibility for their own microbes.

No Principled Libertarian Case?

The slogan “Free Minds and Free Markets” is repeated all over Reason’s website as well as printed on the cover of every issue.  However, Bailey’s article had violated this principle before the body of the article even began.  There is no way “coercive vaccination” or coercive anything can be reconciled with a free and voluntary market system.

Coercion implies that some consequences exist for refusing to comply; a threat of force.  Coercion and force are anathema to a free market.  A government pushing, promoting, advertising, selling, subsidizing, and worst of all mandating commercial products is exactly what creates a manipulated (not free!) market.  Using government to bolster one technology and intimidate those who disagree is destructive to the very fabric of free competition and choice.  This is corporatism, the type of influence is what Reason usually condemns.  A free market would allow technology to stand on its own without help or hindrance.  The departure from principle is quite bizarre.

Bailey can’t be unaware of free markets, can he?  One can only assume that he has a flawed understanding of free markets or that he willfully chooses to violate the free market in pursuit of his alternative agenda.  But the implications of such a flawed doctrine don’t end there.

Collectivism Versus Individuality

The view that government has a role in coercing individual behavior for the “good” of everyone else is collectivist by definition.  It is social engineering.  Such coercion is incompatible with a society built on voluntarism.  When the state sweepingly compels people to perform certain actions outside of due process, they cannot accurately call themselves free.  Is rejecting involuntary collectivism not a principled libertarian argument?

There also is an apparent disregard for individual sovereignty and self-ownership.  It brings to light the fundamental libertarian question: Who owns your body? The state or you?  The answer to that question lies in who makes the final decision about what goes in your body.

And who will cover the cost of the drugs?  Along with the forced administration of pharmaceuticals of the state’s choosing, Bailey proposes mandatory private health insurance.  In his 2004 article “Mandatory Health Insurance Now!” Bailey again proposes a liberty-negating solution and calls it libertarian, justifying the expense to civil liberties with his prediction of more money in the government’s coffers.

This isn’t libertarian; this is utilitarian.  Liberty is only valued by a utilitarian inasmuch as it is consistent with obtaining vague objectives of societal progress.  As soon as liberty is identified as a hindrance to a collective goal — such as universally medicating the public — liberty is scuttled for the dangerous pursuit of the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  The logic allows the “greater good” to trump individual rights.

The idea that members of society, or the “herd” as they call it, have as much right to refuse injections as cattle is not a vision of a libertarian society.

The Use of Force

The only thing more full of holes than Bailey’s doctrine is his ridiculous argument against people having “a right to swing their microbes at other people.” His implication is that the spread of germs is an initiation of force from one person against others, therefore justifying state intervention to mitigate that initiation of force.  This cheapens the definition of force to an utterly ubiquitous level.  A single person picks up and loses an incalculable number of microorganisms per day.   This is done invisibly, without a person’s knowledge, whether he is healthy or sick, without malice, without intent, and without the ability to stop it (even if you try).   No one can know how many billions of microorganisms were exchanged in a given day, nor who will be susceptible to them.  No one can prove beyond reasonable doubt which person dropped which microorganism.

Indeed, if this is Bailey’s standard for determining whether “force” has been initiated, then such “force” is an omnipresent, inescapable human interaction that happens every day.  And the logical conclusion is that acts of force against others are rightly criminalized.  Every sneeze and handshake could be considered an assault.  Because if exchanging a germ without consent is an initiation of force, then good germs or bad germs are equally forceful.  You might conclude that Bailey believes that everyone has a right to never engage their immune system without consent.

What should happen to someone drops microorganisms that actually cause someone else to get sick?  Should that be considered attempted murder?  The idea of criminalizing communicable diseases is a diving leap down an already slippery slope.

And does Bailey really think the so-called “force” exuded in the act of transferring invisible germs is more threatening than a deliberate, physical intervention by the state?  His priorities seem far askew from a usual libertarian, and the implementation of such policies would  look more like a dystopian, germophobic police state than a libertarian society.

A Pattern of Pseudo-Libertarianism

Bailey’s mutterings would hold little weight if he was just one of the many internet bloggers pushing for state mandates and collectivism.  But Bailey should know better.  Worse, the magazine that many look to as a standard-bearer for libertarianism should know better.

Not only did Bailey’s screed make it past the editors and get published, but a second blog post appeared on the website as a promotion of his work.  “Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey explains why there is no principled libertarian case for vaccine refusal,” states the notice.

Reason's "45 enemies of freedom."  (Source: Reason)
Reason’s “45 enemies of freedom.” (Source: Reason)

Furthermore, on the Reason website, the article is tagged with the keywords “Libertarian” and “Libertarian History/Philosophy,” meaning that this article on forced vaccines will forever appear under searches for the two tags.

Is this really how Reason wants to represent libertarianism?

Apparently so.  Not only are forced injections are being described as synonymous with freedom, but questioning pharmaceutical dogma is viewed as a threat to freedom.  Such is the conclusion I drew when I saw Reason’s “45 Enemies of Freedom” on the cover of their 45th anniversary issue earlier this year. The ridiculous and agenda-driven list featured a TV personality (#28) who encourages people to think twice about vaccines standing next to a Chinese dictator on the cover.

How can a person who speaks of her concerns (without resorting to coercion or force) be viewed as a threat — let alone one of the greatest threats to freedom that Reason has ever known?  Regardless of whether you agree with this woman, her skeptical views on vaccines are in no way a threat to freedom.  That is, unless, you can manage to stick with Ronald Bailey on his illogical condemnation of drug-free people.  How could this silly list get published without reasonable people of the Reason staff raising a hand in objection?

I can see who Reason views as its enemies.  But its hard to decipher what “freedom” means to them.

Who Are the Real Enemies of Freedom?

Reason is hardly the first publication to advocate mandatory vaccines.  Many others have, unfortunately, allowed their devotion to science (and cries for safety) to come before civil rights and liberty.  The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics recently published an article suggesting that participation in vaccine experiments should be “akin to military conscription,” and the “limited inconvenience” should be endured “for the greater good of society.”

If progression of promising vaccines from the lab to the clinic is to remain unaffected and financial inducement is an ethically unacceptable solution to the recruitment shortage, other strategies need to be considered. Compulsory involvement in vaccine studies is one alternative solution that is not as outlandish as it might seem on first consideration. Many societies already mandate that citizens undertake activities for the good of society; in several European countries registration for organ-donation has switched from “opt-in” (the current U.S. system) to “opt-out” systems (in which those who do not specifically register as nondonors are presumed to consent to donation) [10], and most societies expect citizens to undertake jury service when called upon. In these examples, the risks or inconvenience to an individual are usually limited and minor. Mandatory involvement in vaccine trials is therefore perhaps more akin to military conscription, a policy operating today in 66 countries. In both conscription and obligatory trial participation, individuals have little or no choice regarding involvement and face inherent risks over which they have no control, all for the greater good of society.

There are lots of True Believers out there.  While many of them will argue that compulsory behavior should be imposed for our own good, few actually claim that it will set us free.  Coercion is liberty, huh?  What’s next, ignorance is strength?  War is peace?

I don’t take joy in calling out a magazine that is supposed to be an ally in exposing the police state.  But the idea that forced inoculations are in any way compatible with liberty or libertarianism is something that needs to be flatly rejected.  I was floored that this article was featured in Reason.  The overwhelming negative reaction from Reason’s fans seems to indicate that this piece was far out of step with actual libertarians.

The perversion of the language, and use of libertarianism as a vehicle to promote big government is shocking and outrageous.  Bailey’s 2004 piece on mandatory health insurance was later used to deflect conservative and libertarian criticism of the “Individual Mandate” featured in Romneycare and later in Obamacare.  When some future government tries to justify universal vaccine mandates, claiming that they got the idea from Reason and the libertarian movement, I want to be on record in opposition.   Vaccine mandates are about as “libertarian” as eugenics and one-child policies.

What do actual libertarians say about mandatory vaccinations?  In 2004, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik made a memorable quote when asked how he would feel about being forced to take a shot.  In his usual candid fashion, he said, “OK, you bring the syringe, I’ll bring my .45, and we’ll see who makes a bigger hole.”  Knowing Michael, I have no doubt he absolutely meant it.

Coercion doesn’t line up with any Libertarian Party plank that I’m aware of, nor does it stand up to actual libertarian logic.  The fact is that coercion is what happens when statists can’t win in a battle of ideas.  I hope that Reason will reevaluate whether its current strategy of militant vaccine promotion is in line with its mission statement.  Until then, we will be calling out advocates of compulsory medicine as the police state pushers that they are.

UPDATE: 12/17/2013

Forced quarantine, or a pragmatic argument for indefinite detention

After 7 days my article has not provoked a (direct) response.  However, today Reason published two articles nearly simultaneously in what appears to be a choreographed “debate” between Ronald Bailey and another exceedingly pro-vaccine author named Jeffrey Singer.

Singer, to his credit, raises a number of questions that point out to the reader that coercive vaccination would subvert liberty, privacy, and personal autonomy.  He then goes on to agree with Bailey on a number of points, comparing people who haven’t vaccinated to pregnant mothers who feed alcohol and cigarettes to their fetuses.  They both generally deride anyone who doesn’t live by the mainstream pro-pharmaceutical ideals, and like a couple of broken records they both keep reiterating that any skepticism of vaccination is “pseudoscience.”

Singer’s argument was weak overall and gave room for further statist incursions.  He essentially gave credence to Bailey’s proposals, pondering how many unvaccinated people — or “free riders” as the Reason crew calls them — should be “allowed” to exist in society.

Achieving a society without free riders is not only unnecessary, it is impossible.  So perhaps allowing a certain amount of free riders could mitigate the disruption to liberty caused by a mandatory vaccination program. But then, how many free riders should be allowed? And what criteria would be used to decide who gets to ride free?  (Singer)

Singer’s questions suggest that coercion may be acceptable, if only we could decide on what degree of coercion would produce the most desirable utilitarian outcome.  Bailey — who now denies making an argument for coercive vaccination — still takes the opportunity to tackle these questions.  Not objecting to a question built on coercion, Bailey says the number he wants vaccinated is 90% of the population.

Interestingly, Singer avoided blasting Bailey on his his statement that there is “no principled libertarian case” for refusing a vaccine, nor did he address free markets.  The rebuttal turned strange and ironic when he essentially agreed with Bailey’s absurd notion that microorganisms entering and leaving the human body is an act of force.   To that end, he proposed another controversial idea that Bailey happily agreed with:  forcibly quarantining sick people.  Singer wrote:

A strong argument can be made that it is self-defense to quarantine people who are infected with a disease-producing organism and are objectively threatening the contamination of others. But in such a case, the use of force against the disease carrier is based upon evidence that the carrier is contagious and may infect others.  (Singer)

It is unclear if Singer wants to actually criminalize disease, or if he wants to imprison sick people outside of law, indefinitely, without due process.   Either way, the implications are profound and dangerous to liberty. That did not stop Bailey from heartily agreeing.  He wrote:

In his response, Dr. Singer limits the protection of others from infectious disease to those cases in which a known individual is currently spreading disease. In such a situation, Singer that [sic] a strong case can be made for legally detaining and isolating people in quarantine. I agree. But is the libertarian case for protecting people from the risk of infectious disease limited solely to quarantining those who are currently infected?  (Bailey)

Not “limited solely to quarantining…”??  If forcibly imprisoning sick people is not enough to calm Bailey’s pathophobia, what else would he lead his audience to conclude?

In his followup, Bailey denies writing the subtitle of his December 6th article: “A pragmatic argument for coercive vaccination.”  He lays the blame on his editors for inserting the statement.  Interestingly, he does not seem to feel strongly enough about the subtitle to ask the editors to remove it for the sake of his reputation and credibility — nearly two weeks later.  In fact, while he laments that the discussion was “diverted” by the subtitle, he doesn’t deny supporting coercive vaccination. Bailey again made similar arguments that being unvaccinated is not a right, while erratically arguing for more social pressure to vaccinate and shunning those who don’t comply.

Overall I am more disappointed after reading this contrived followup debate.  Both of the selected participants seem to have accepted the fundamentally flawed argument that the behavior of invisible microorganisms is tantamount to violence, ultimately inviting the government to intervene.  Whether discussing how to “hold the intentionally unvaccinated liable,” the policy of coerced vaccinations, or indefinite detention of sick people, either side of this debate seems to allow the state a shocking amount of latitude.



In hopes for a positive outcome, give Reason some feedback how you feel about coerced vaccination.

Ronald Bailey:

Reason’s letters to the editor:

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Writer, editor, political activist and liberty advocate. PSUSA has been exposing the police state since 2010 and never runs out of material.

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