Ebola: Saving Life As We Know It, But Not You Specifically

ebola-quarantine-area

As the first U.S. citizen remains forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears, now seems a good time to revisit the role of government in our lives. Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.

One cannot help but wonder, is this their new position on guns as well?

One person has died in the U.S. from Ebola.

We lose 32,000 times that many every year to guns. Is there no cost too high, no civil liberty that cannot yield, in the quest to defeat that risk?

What about cars?

In 2012, 92 people died every day in automobile accidents. How many civil liberties can be ceded to protect us from death-by-car?

Anyone who thinks there is no cost too high to pay to keep Ebola from tarnishing the pristine lands of America is a statist in sheep’s clothing.

The government’s job is to preserve Life As We Know It. To do that, it does not need to save you, specifically. And it certainly does not so direly need to save you, specifically, that it should declare marshal law and shut down global travel.

In the years since 1976, the U.S. has lost between 3,000 to 49,000 people per year to influenza. By my math, that means we could lose another 48,999 people to Ebola this year and still not suffer much impact to Life As We Know It.

But you know what would impact Life As We Know It?

Massive losses in wealth due to travel bans, “aversion behavior,” quarantines and fear.

For example, Michael J. Casey, writing for the Wall Street Journal reports an interesting study about the effects on the global economy of a flu pandemic:

One study led by U.K economists that modeled the global economic fallout from a hypothetical influenza pandemic predicted only a 0.5% GDP loss from the base effect of the disease itself but up to 8% due to policies intended to mitigate its spread, such as school closures.

Think about it. Tourism to and from Africa ceases. Tourism between the U.S. and the rest of the world slows. Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants close early. No one rides the bus or takes taxicabs. A lot of people who would otherwise be working-and spending-are quarantined for weeks at a time. Equity indexes fall. Shares in travel firms dive alongside companies heavily invested in Africa. International financial institutions with interests in the region take a hit. The prices of iron ore and oil rise.

Your job might cease to exist. Your retirement account might be wiped out. The value of your house might plummet.

Is there still no price too high to pay when it is clearer that it will be you who must pay it?

However distasteful it might seem, the government must weigh the lives saved against the cost (in both dollars and civil liberties sacrificed) of saving them. Just like the Federal Reserve has a conflicting dual mandate to maximize employment and keep prices stable, the government has a conflicting dual mandate when it comes to Ebola-to protect us from Ebola and to protect the worldwide economy and our civil liberties from collateral damage in the fight to stop Ebola.

Take heart, gentle lambs.

Just because it is not the government’s job to spare no cost keeping you safe, does not mean you cannot make it your own priority. Disabuse yourself of the notion that only the government exercises any control over the big stuff, the important stuff, the dangerous stuff. You are free, all on your own, to spare no expense keeping yourself safe. Wear a mask when you go outside, even having something like this N95 Respirator Canada has to offer can make a difference. Wash your hands more and touch your face less. Take hand sanitizer with you and use it when you enter and leave a building. Drive your car instead of using public transportation. Start prepping.

Stay home from work, like you think all those returning aid workers should.

Well go ahead.

You first.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
  • Adam

    “Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.”

    I don’t see any links or quotes regarding this. Could you point to some examples?

  • Sarah Baker

    Hi, Adam – I know this is a cop out, but that is my *characterization* of what I see in two places. One is my personal Facebook feed. The other is the evening Fox News talk shows. (I know my fellow TLP contributors are going to vomit a bit at this, but I watch Fox every night.)

    I know that all of the people to whom I am referring would disagree with my characterization. They would say that they do not think that is the government’s job, but that *this particular* risk is just so great, that more is needed. They would say that we are having a disagreement about the seriousness of the risk, not about the role of government.

    Nevertheless, I still perceive a shrillness in tone, an indignent outrage that more is not being done, that to me is reminiscent of the refrain from some on the left concerning guns.

    I have a feeling you’re not going to like this answer very much….

  • Adam

    I’ll have to take your word for it then that this was a scathing take down of a character you made up from multiple sources.

    I just don’t see any flesh and blood examples of a conservative who wants the government to keep us perfectly safe from all risk. They may be arguing for more government but I don’t think that refutes conservatism. I haven’t seen any examples of arguing for complete control for complete safety. I don’t watch much tv news so I may be lacking in that source.

    I’m surprised you would think your fellow contributors would be queasy at you watching Fox News. I would normally characterize libertarianism with being open minded.