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Private Entities Should be Free to Choose

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(Don Boudreaux)


Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:

Mr. W__:

Thanks for your e-mail.

I share your disdain for the increasingly ridiculous insistence on mask-wearing, as well as your hope that businesses in jurisdictions without mask mandates will not require customers and employees to wear masks. I cannot, however, agree that private businesses and other organizations not be allowed to choose to require masks.

You’re correct that fear of Covid is far out of proportion to its true risks. You’re correct also that pundits and politicians will continue to stir up Covid hysteria such that many businesses will feel they have no choice but to require masks. But such is the troubled world we live in. As a practical matter, if public attitudes are such as to demand mask-wearing, it’s futile to expect governments to prohibit businesses from requiring masks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is able to impose – inappropriately, in my view – such a prohibition on businesses in that state precisely because Floridians’ fear of Covid and (hence) demand for mask wearing are sufficiently weak as to cause him no political trouble for this prohibition. Yet, ironically, this fact means that, absent the prohibition, while some businesses in Florida would require masks, not all would. People could choose.

While it’s always very dangerous to call upon the state to ramp up its restrictions on property, contract, and commerce rights, this danger is especially high in time such as these when the state is already abusing its powers unprecedentedly.

I would be justly accused of hypocrisy if, with one breath, I criticize – as I do – government for restricting businesses’, workers’, and consumers’ freedom to deal with each other as they choose according to their own preferences, whatever these might be, and then with the next breath call upon government to restrict businesses’, workers’, and consumers’ freedom to deal with each other according to their own preferences, whatever these might be.

That I intensely prefer my fellow citizens not to have a preference for mask-wearing doesn’t come close to being a sufficient condition for me to call upon the state to prevent businesses from catering to my fellow-citizens’ preferences. This conclusion is not changed one iota by the fact that this popular preference for mask-wearing is one that, I believe, is both misguided, and pumped-up by the biases of the media and political elite.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


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