Barry Fagin (copy)

One good reason to be skeptical of government “solutions” is that they tend to be all or nothing. Very few complex problems respond well to an all or nothing approach. Vaccine credentials are a great example.

I say “credentials” and not “passports” because passports are typically government documents. I don’t think there’s much support for government-issued documentation certifying that someone’s been vaccinated. There is certainly none from me. But when it comes to vaccination requirements, like who can require them and under what circumstances, there is an awful lot of room for flexibility and creativity if we let private citizens and private businesses try some ideas.

For an example of what not to do, look at Florida. Two months ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning businesses in the state from requiring proof of vaccination for admittance. DeSantis is a Republican in a conservative state, but I thought conservatives didn’t like telling business what to do?

Democrats like to compel businesses to do things Democrats like. If the Republican response is simply to forbid businesses from doing things Republicans don’t like, then there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.

Would it be so crazy to let private businesses decide how to handle vaccinated vs unvaccinated customers in the way they think best? To let private companies develop their own policies for vaccinations and employees? Why not try some bottom-up ideas and see what people come up with?

For example, couldn’t restaurants have closer-spaced seating for vaccinated customers? How about gyms having maskless nights for vaccinated patrons? I’m guessing cruise lines would require vaccination credentials for their passengers. Works for me.

Masks should have been handled bottom-up from the start. Businesses have every reason to want to stay open and make money while at the same time not endangering their customers or employees. That’s why it’s so odd to me to hear of conservatives claiming having to wear a mask in a private business is some sort of violation of their freedom. It’s not.

Part of being a private business is having the ability to make at least some rules for what goes on inside it. Last I checked, the Constitution doesn’t give you a right to shop at Costco or Walmart while not wearing a mask. Any more than it gives you a right to shop there while not wearing pants.

If you think that’s wrong, make a liar out of me. Go open a retail store that doesn’t require customers to mask up. Make a big deal of your mask-free policy. Who knows, maybe you’ll make money from the customers Walmart and Costco lost due to their tyrannical mask requirements.

So how can businesses tell if you’ve been vaccinated? There are all sorts of vaccine certifications available that don’t involve a government or a centralized database. Public-key cryptography allows vaccine and/or health care providers to certify vaccinations of individuals on a “certificate of vaccination” credential that fits in your wallet. It offers the best protection against forgery and tampering modern encryption can provide.

There’s no reason why the issuing agency has to be a central authority. Thanks to the wonders of mathematics, we don’t have to worry about Big Brother snooping our vaccination status.

Of course, for all this to work, everyone will have to understand there are consequences to the choices we make. Wearing a mask or not, getting vaccinated or not, these are not isolated acts once you get out of bed.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people want to stand on principle without accepting the consequences. Whether you’re a leftist journalist denied tenure, or an archconservative blogger banned from Twitter, the First Amendment and the rest of the Constitution don’t give you a right to do anything you want without consequence.

That said, letting people find voluntary solutions to complex problems, like when and how to require masks and vaccinations in a pandemic, is humanity’s way of balancing consequences. But that will only happen if our first reaction to tough problems stops being “There oughta be a law.”

Barry Fagin is senior fellow in Technology Policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Fagin at

Barry Fagin is Senior Fellow in Technology Policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Dr. Fagin at


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