Despite the Biden administration’s flip flops on whether the federal government will be involved in creating and distributing vaccine passports, one thing has remained at the very top of the narrative: The private sector will be leading the way. And it seems this is the case, but perhaps not in the way that President Joe Biden and his cohorts suspected.
“Will the U.S. government impose vaccine passports on Americans? It may not need to. The private sector may go ahead and require proof of vaccination for customers to use their services – something various institutes and companies are already investigating.
“Some may be wondering how the private sector gathering all this personal information and administering strict social controls is an improvement on the government doing so – but nothing has expanded corporate influence in recent years like the tech boom.”
While it was to be expected that multi-national corporations would be subtly encouraged – and perhaps even eager – to impose their own restrictions on customers and consumers who remain unvaccinated, it may come as a surprise that some smaller players in the private sector are taking the lead, albeit in a rather unusual way.
Carrot or Stick?
A Florida entrepreneur is offering a major ticket discount on an upcoming concert for those who can provide both a photo ID and proof of COVID vaccination. For those willing to provide such data, the ticket costs a breezy $18. Customers who have not been vaccinated, or who cannot or will not fork over their details, will have to pay $999.99.
The event promoter, Paul Williams, says he believes this scheme will provide an incentive to those reluctant to take the jab. He said, “We’re just trying to do a show safely. And they should go out and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and their community.” According to The Hill, no one has of yet availed themselves of the full-price tickets.
But it is not just one side of the vaccine debate calling the free market into play. A Mendocino County, CA, coffee shop is applying a tariff of its own. A sign on the front window of Fiddleheads Café reads: “$5 FEE ADDED TO ORDERS PLACED WHILE WEARING A FACE MASK.” Customers who throw their masks in the trash get a 50% discount on their total order.
Owner Chris Castleman says that the additional fee is essentially a charitable donation as the extra money collected will be given to organizations assisting domestic abuse victims. He wrote to NBC Bay Area saying:
“Customers either love it or hate it. There are people who refuse to pay it; I guess a $5 donation to charity is too much for them. Others have gladly paid it knowing that it goes to a good cause. I don’t force anyone to pay, I give them the freedom of choice, which seems to be a foreign concept in these parts of the country.”
Free Markets Do What They Do
An individual’s vaccination status is not classed as an immutable characteristic, meaning that a private enterprise is free to discriminate based on it, refusing or encouraging service in any manner the business sees fit.
New York City is providing scratch tickets to those who have their shot. California is enrolling all who get vaccinated in a multi-million dollar lottery, and businesses are offering discounts to customers who show proof of their status. United Airlines hit the news recently by announcing that any potential customer who joins the Chicago-based airline’s MileagePlus loyalty program and uploads their vaccination information will be entered into a sweepstake with the chance to win a year’s free air travel.
This was what the Biden administration envisaged when it spoke of the private sector leading the way. Yet, it is a double-edged sword. The same freedoms that allow one type of business to discriminate against an unvaccinated or unmasked customer also allow other private enterprises to apply their own discrimination against those who choose to be vaccinated or wear a mask.
Will America soon be divided by more than political ideology? Consumers vote with their wallets and their patronage far more than they do at the ballot box. This grand experiment in corporate incentives may provide a telling lesson for those who feel the government should be involved in not only their daily lives but also their businesses.
Read more from Mark Angelides.