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Externalities are costs that individuals or businesses impose on others who have no say in the matter. Pollution is the classic example of an externality that requires government intervention, but spreading a dangerous virus poses exactly the same issues.

The question of whether or not to dump raw sewage into a public lake isn’t something that should be left up to individual choice. And going to a gym or refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic is exactly like dumping sewage into a lake: it’s behavior that may be convenient for the people who engage in it, but it puts others at risk.

The right wing is all about denying that people have any responsibility for each other, and muzzling experts who try to tell people in power things they don’t want to hear. The fact that selfishness and willful ignorance are now guiding principles for much of our political establishment is a large part of the reason America is failing the COVID-19 test so spectacularly. 

Mike Millan


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