Should the State Punish People for Their Health Choices?

Emmanuel Macron has caused some consternation by saying that he wants to “piss off” the unvaccinated. And you can understand why. Politicians – especially ones purporting to be liberal – don’t usually base their policies on the goal of “pissing off” a subset of the electorate.

Even Donald Trump chose his words more carefully. Perhaps Macron will call up his old friend to get some advice on the art of rhetoric.

Yet as Will Jones notes, Macron does deserve credit for being honest. Unlike other politicians who’ve dabbled in vaccine passports, he’s not claiming to be concerned about the ‘externality of transmission’. Rather, he wants to punish the unvaccinated until they make the ‘right’ choice.

Under proposed legislation, only the fully vaccinated (is that three or four jabs?) will qualify for the country’s new health pass. Those who present a negative test will not. Since a vaccinated person is far more likely to spread the virus than someone with a negative test, we know this law isn’t designed to stop transmission.

Of course, if it were designed to stop transmission, that wouldn’t make any more sense. The latest infection numbers show that vaccine passports have failed spectacularly in this regard.

After outlining his shrewd public health strategy of “pissing off” the unvaccinated, Macron added: “When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.” Now the unvaccinated aren’t citizens? That escalated quickly…

The only justification I can imagine for Macron’s new policy is the one Andrew Neil gave in his op-ed for the Daily Mail. Since the unvaccinated are more likely to wind up in hospital, they place a greater burden on the national health service.

Yet, as I’ve pointed out before, this argument implies we should punish anyone who makes choices that lead to above-average hospital usage. For example, we could introduce obesity passports; or passports for skateboarders, rugby players or people who get drunk on a Friday night.

By Macron’s logic, obese people’s freedom to get fat threatens his freedom not to wait in line at the hospital. Are the obese also unworthy of citizenship?

More than 90% of French adults have already received the vaccine. And a lot of the rest have probably had Covid. Instead of threatening people with crass barroom talk, Macron might consider that quaint old tactic – persuasion.

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