On Liberty, Anti-Vaxxers, and the Free Rider Problem

May 28, 2021

I went to Greeley the other day, and attended a club meeting of the Centennial Rotary Club in a side room at the Gourmet Grub Scratch Kitchen.  It was a new “new normal” for me, with about 8-10 members choosing to Zoom into the meeting, and perhaps a few over 20 club members in attendance - and often seated side-by-side one another!, and all without masks!   

I enjoyed connecting with my fellow Rotarians, had a wonderful lunch of beef tips, gouda mashed potatoes with demi glaze, and learned all about onions from the CEO of the National Onion Association - HQ’d nearby in Eaton!  We learned about transportation subsidies that allow Denmark to ship onions to Japan for less than American farmers can from California, onion-dumping across the US-Mexico border by the cartels to launder drug money, California’s potentially disastrous ban on a widely-used fungicide, AND we got a recipe book focused on the great and powerful onion!  Also, did you know onions are incredibly good for your immune system?  

Good thing, because I shook a few hands and sat within 6 feet of people from two other households, and I haven’t been vaccinated!  And you know what, I’m not gonna.  For some, this is a big problem - and I’m sure I’ll get notes and emails from some of my friends, first for not being vaccinated yet - but worse than that for writing about it!  I’m an influencer, apparently, and unaware of the damage of my expressions of opinions contrary to the narrative!  

But - I’m exercising my liberty, just as were all of those in the room with me, and each of those who joined by Zoom.  I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but I am a risk analyst by training and experience, and in this case I am a free rider. For some that’s a problem - but for most of you, you don’t know what a free rider is!

I’ve titled this month’s Blog “May I?”, and I intend to do a bit of thinking and unfolding on the following topics:

  1. What is the nature of our relationship with and responsibility to one another?
  2. What is the free rider problem in economics, and how should it inform how policies are set on a local and national level? 
  3. How should business leaders approach topics such as vaccination policy and openness to social and political discussions in the workplace?

Easy and approachable topics today, I hope you’ll choose to read on!

Just kidding, I know that these topics are not easy nor approachable - but I do feel a certain obligation to approach them for some reason.  The first is the foundation of the divide between our Red and Blue Parties in America - this balance between collectivism and individualism, if you will.  But then I see the way that individual collectivists behave, and I see that they are individualists as well.  Because my only way to see the world is through my own eyes - though no light nor sound touches my brain directly, this distorted view processed poorly via chemical and electric signals is all I got!  And it’s all you got!  

Most of you don’t know (but might guess!), that I took several philosophy classes during my Economics education at North Dakota State, a couple more and I could have added another minor!  (but I was on the 5 ½ year plan already!)  The first was Greek Philosophy, with much study of Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and many others.  Plato is considered by many to have laid the foundation for the notion of liberty, in the Socratic dialogue, The Republic.  I also studied Metaphysics - the nature of being, including Plato again, Buddha, Confucius, Kant & Nietzsche.  And of course, Ethics - how should one behave?  So all this to say - how should one behave?, especially with regard to our interactions with one another, and especially when it comes to vaccines and masking and free assembly and such?  

If you’re reading this, you likely know I’m a liberty-first kind of guy, which is not to say that I have “freedom to do what I want” - I wrote extensively on this topic last July in my blog - Liberty = Freedom + Virtue (aka What is Virtue?)  So, my freedoms are constrained by my responsibilities to those around me, but I do have natural rights.  From my perspective, they are God-granted, but I see no reason they can’t be just as valid if issued by Mother Nature, The Universal Consciousness, Yahweh, or what have you.  In addition to that, however, there is supportive language in that they are also charter-granted - in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, for example.  

In our LoCo Experience Podcast episode #6, my guest Ben Gates won a dozen eggs from my backyard hens with his exposition of Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, and I have to say it goes a long way toward simply defining my own views on our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another.  Simply put - Life trumps Liberty trumps Pursuit of Happiness is his foundational values hierarchy, supplemented by The Golden Rule.  

So, this free-rider problem - you’ve heard of it perhaps, but do you understand?  Basically, when there is a public good, and it’s difficult to (or inconvenient) to charge for it, people can jump along for the free ride, and not contribute to the obvious costs associated with the provision.  Back to covid topic - for me, my perceived (and actual) risk was very low throughout - of either succumbing to it, suffering greatly, or passing it unknowingly by asymptomatic spread - and so now with case rates plummeting and pretty much everyone vaccinated that wants it, my risk is even lower.  

So, I’m a free rider - all y'alls who got the vaccine - and many who suffered some yucky 2nd shot symptoms - you have my gratitude - thank you for reducing my (and your own!) risk.  You made a calculated decision, and I have too - and I hope you (and academia, and travel, and employers) respect my right and others - to make a different choice.  And, I’ve said all along - I’d rather have the real immunity than the manufactured stuff in this circumstance - see this recent article in Nature that supports my instincts.  And - did you know there’s been more deaths from covid vaccine than ALL OTHER VACCINES COMBINED in the last 20 years in the USA - already!  Yes, according to the CDC.  Read it here.  

Sorry, got a little worked up and linky there - you do you, is what I mean to say, and I’ll do me! 

Moving along - here’s a place where I’m not a free rider - property taxes!  In fact, I’m the opposite of that, because we have no kids!  Property taxes go in large part to fund schools, so I’m funding but not getting any children educated.  But it’s a public good, and I want educated children heading off to the workforce, so just spend those dollars wisely, ok?  

Here’s another free-rider problem you’ve all heard of by now - and I bet you know more than one friend who’s been on it - Fun-Employment!  That’s where you make as much money as you did before you lost your job, and you get to go mountain biking or play video games all day - so long as you show that you’ve applied for enough jobs that you’re not qualified for to avoid getting any of those many dozens of jobs that could actually utilize your skills.  Small businesses are suffering from a serious labor shortage right now, and it’s caused by the unintended consequences and free ridership of policy decisions in many respects.  

These bailouts and special programs have significant unintended consequences - not even to mention the cultural implications of knowing that your debt might be paid off or your income go up if you get laid off in the future! 

So, there’s that.  And, I just saw today, that Facebook will no longer remove posts that question whether this covid thing might have originated in a lab rather than a wet market.  Wow, may we really?  Better not let your employer see it though, unless they’re into social or political expression during office hours.

You saw that story, right - the tech company Basecamp faced the challenge of our polarized world by banning social and political discourse among its’ employees - and promptly saw a wave of resignations of about ⅓ of their entire workforce!  So, are we going to build companies of homogenized masses now, blue companies and red companies when so many of us are mostly purple?  We can’t let these parties do this to us America - please join me in saying enough is enough.

I propose companies refer back instead to the Golden Rule.  Do unto others.  Do you wish to be listened to? - then listen!  Want to be respected? - show respect!  It’s not always easy to cultivate a culture of caring among a diverse group of people, but it’s always worth it. 

A diverse team will develop ideas and opportunities that quickly outpace others, and when you combine that with caring, you’ve got the special sauce that can help bring a company from good to great.  For you leaders bold enough - perhaps you could encourage MORE social and political discourse?  Bad ideas and prejudices flourish in dark corners, but good ideas sparkle and enterprises and communities grow in the light of connection, understanding and relationship.

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