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Masks, Peanuts, and Negative Externalities

Who has the right to force you to pay an unwanted price?

By Petrarch  |  July 6, 2020

One of our regular loony-left "news" sources recently published a classic "Tell us how you really feel!" article:

Wear your mask and shut the f**k up about it...

Since the pandemic erupted, it’s becoming clear that the health and safety of all Americans depends on the whims of the dumbest among us. Videos posted from all over the country show people cutting holes in their masks to make it “easier to breathe,” haranguing grocery store employees who won’t let them enter without masks, and printing fake medical exemption cards to present to business owners — with threats of $75,000 fines if they are refused service...

Wearing a mask is not a freedom issue, nor does it have anything to do with the “devil.” It’s a matter of health, life, and death. Maybe you can look at my daughter — whose nose still bears a mark from the pressure of a breathing tube pressing inside it for weeks on end — and tell her that a mask makes you feel uncomfortable. Or maybe you can just put it on your face, protect your neighbors, and go about your day.

Regular readers of Scragged will not be surprised to hear that we disagree with the authoress of this screed, whose declared name, while not actually Karen, might as well be.  We've written before about how there is absolutely no solid evidence that simple cloth masks accomplish anything - just a bunch of loudly-shouted commands from known liars who were saying the opposite yesterday.

So the fundamental premise of the entire article - that your wearing a mask will save the life of her respiratorily-challenged daughter - is utterly unsupported by any actual scientific evidence.

But what if it weren't?

For instance, there is clear evidence that N95 respirator masks really do stop viruses.  Normal people aren't advised to wear them, because they're expensive and rare and doctors need them - but suppose they were cheap and readily available?  Would that give nervous Nancies, or the government, the moral authority to require everyone to wear them at all times?

Nuts to You?

This may seem like a novel question, but it is not.  For the past few decades, peanut allergies have become an increasingly common ailment, and in extreme cases, there is no doubt that exposure to peanuts can kill both quickly and unpleasantly.

In response, an increasing number of schools have declared themselves peanut-free zones, as have restaurants and even airlines once famous for their peanuts.

There's a hidden cost, though: peanuts and peanut butter are one of the more inexpensive sources of protein, long-lasting on the shelf, and require no refrigeration or special storage.  By banning them, schools in particular are ensuring that at least some number of their students will eat less-healthy fare, obtain less nutrition, or spend more money that they may not have.

Now, we might suppose that's a small cost to pay for little Johnny not swelling up and dying in agony.  Where, though, do we draw the line, and on what basis?

If there's one thing modern American society seems utterly incapable of, it's drawing sensible lines of any sort.  No sane person could possibly imagine that bringing an "emotional support horse" on an airplane without even buying a ticket for the critter was a good idea, much less a Constitutional right - yet here we are.  Because of our inability to draw sensible lines, we are left with a choice between kicking off the blind man's seeing eye dog and sitting in a flea-infested flying barnyard.

In fact, the peanut question resembles our current pandemic lunacy: should we force the entire world to inconvenience itself to benefit a subset of vulnerable people?  Or, would we be better off trying to protect the vulnerable people from the wide world of threats and leave everyone else to get on with their lives?

A Question of Power

As things stand, we aren't even allowed to ask this question, much less to reach our own conclusions.  Not only have non-mainstream theories and news items about the virus been suppressed, we've been commanded what the answer Will Be, without any public debate or discussion.

You'd think that something directly imposing on the liberties of every single person in a supposedly free country should at least be debated and voted on by their elected representatives in the legislature.  But no: all these mask mandates and shutdowns have stemmed from executive diktats by governors and mayors, not one by legislative action or even court review.

The totalitarian left is directly arguing for an unrepresentative police state, where once commands are issued from On High, no ordinary Joe has the right even to question them.  Obviously, lovers of freedom flatly refuse to comply as a matter of principle, which is why mask-wearing has become a political signifier that it wasn't even two months ago.

In a way, we're fortunate that mask mandates are so completely devoid of actual scientific proof backing them up - we can defend our freedoms and reject tyranny without worrying that "people will die."  Peanut bans are a harder case, because people do die from them and not having peanuts around really does prevent allergy-related deaths - which, no doubt, is why we don't see protest marches of mothers demanding the right to feed their kids PB&Js.

The coronavirus concerns of your neighbors and bad-actor pronouncements of politically-charged "science" are imposing a cost of inconvenience on you.  The real worries of mothers of the allergic are imposing a somewhat larger cost on your child and your grocery budget - a benefit gained by the allergic child, at a collective cost borne by everyone else that nobody bothers to count.

In economic terms, that's the very definition of a negative externality - a cost that's shifted to someone who did nothing to incur it.  Having the police stand down to protect the feelings of rioters imposes costs on the owners of the stores they loot.  In some jurisdictions, progressive prosecutors are harassing people who displayed guns to protect themselves.

Perhaps you're willing to wear a useless, breath-restricting mask to make your ignorant neighbors feel better.  Perhaps you don't mind sacrificing the classic American sandwich to protect some other mother's unfortunate offspring.  Perhaps you can bear someone vandalizing your property or being sued if you protect yourself, to save the lives of people who don't care to treat the police with the respect due an armed officer of the law.

How many more such costs are you willing to accept? And who gets to make that decision?