Walter Block teaching
21 August 1941 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Field||Political economy, environmental economics, transport economics, political philosophy|
|Influences||Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand|
Walter Edward Block (born 21 August 1941) is an Austrian School economist and prominent anarcho-capitalist. He is currently Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans and Senior Fellow with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Block was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents Abraham Block, a certified public accountant, and Ruth Block, a paralegal, both of whom Block has said were liberals. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy summa cum laude from Brooklyn College, where he was a member of the varsity swimming team. Block earned his Ph.D. degree in economics from Columbia University and wrote his dissertation on rent control. Block identifies himself as a "devout atheist".
Block's early thinking life was characterized by egalitarian thought. In an interview by the Austrian Economics Newsletter, Block stated, "In the fifties and sixties, I was just another commie living in Brooklyn." Block credits his "conversion" to libertarianism to personal meetings with Ayn Rand while he was an undergraduate student. Alan Greenspan was in attendance at some of these meetings. As Block describes it, "In 1963, when I was a senior at Brooklyn College, Ayn Rand came there to give a lecture. I attended, along with about 3,000 of my fellow mainly leftish students, in order to boo and hiss her, since she was evil incarnate. Afterward, the president of the group that had invited her to campus announced there was to be a luncheon in her honor, and anyone was welcome to take part, whether or not they agreed with her ideas. Not having had enough booing and hissing at Ayn in her formal lecture, I decided to avail myself of this opportunity to further express my displeasure with her and her views."
Block thereafter attended a luncheon with Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and Leonard Peikoff. After Block's challenging of several luncheon attendees, Branden forged an agreement with Block: "Nathan very graciously offered to come to the other end of the table with me for this purpose, but he imposed two preconditions: first, I would be honor bound not to allow this conversation to lapse with this one meeting, but would continue with it until we had achieved a resolution: either he would convince me of the error of my ways, or I would convince him of his. Second, I would read two books he would later recommend to me (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt).
After I met Murray, it took him probably all of 15 minutes to convert me to the same anarcho-capitalist position I have held ever since.... In retrospect, before I had met Murray, I was nine tenths of the way toward embracing laissez faire capitalist anarchism; all I needed was a little push in the same direction I had already been going for some time.
Block now holds the Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University in New Orleans. He has also taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. From 1979 to 1991, he was the Senior Economist with the Fraser Institute. In addition to his faculty position at Loyola, Block is a Senior Faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. His most famous work is Defending the Undefendable, of which John Stossel said, "Defending the Undefendable... opened my eyes to the beauties of libertarianism. It explains that so much of what is assumed to be evil – is not." Lew Rockwell of the Mises Institute said this about Block's active role in modern libertarianism:
Murray Rothbard, in his life, was known as Mr. Libertarian. We can make a solid case that the title now belongs to Walter Block, a student of Rothbard's whose own vita is as thick as a big-city phonebook, and as diverse as Wikipedia. Whether he is writing on economic theory, ethics, political secession, drugs, roads, education, monetary policy, social theory, unions, political language, or anything else, his prose burns with a passion for this single idea: if human problems are to be solved, the solution is to be found by permitting greater liberty.
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Block, along with Robert Nozick, is one of the leading libertarian defenders of voluntary slave contracts, arguing that a slave contract is "a bona fide contract where consideration crosses hands; when it is abrogated, theft occurs". He critiques other libertarians who oppose voluntary slavery as being inconsistent with their shared principles. Block seeks to make "a tiny adjustment" which "strengthens libertarianism by making it more internally consistent." He argues that his position shows "that contract, predicated on private property [can] reach to the furthest realms of human interaction, even to voluntary slave contracts."
On February 17, 2006, Block publicly expressed his support for the Free State Project (FSP). He said:
You people are doing the Lord's work. The FSP is one of the freshest practical ideas for promoting liberty that has come out of the libertarian movement in the past few decades. May you succeed beyond your wildest dreams, and thus demonstrate in yet another empirical way the benefits and blessings of liberty.
Block is possibly best known for his 1976 book Defending the Undefendable, in which he defends pimps, drug dealers, blackmailers, corrupt policemen, and loan sharks as "economic heroes".
Block's major contributions belong to the following fields:
According to this moral theory, the act of abortion must be conceptually separated into the acts of:
Block believes the woman may legally abort if the fetus is not viable outside the womb, or
Likewise, medical experimenters can treat the fetuses they have in their possession as laboratory "animals", as is their desire, contingent on one and only one stipulation: that no one else in the world wishes to raise these very young infants on their own. Thus Block claims to offer an alternative to the standard pro-life and pro-choice positions.
According to Block's negative homesteading theory, one can come to own misery – a state of being, or about to be, attacked – which one cannot legitimately pass on to someone else, without his permission. Should one however try to forward this misery onto someone else, this person has the right to defend himself from the "forwarding of misery". One has, however, not the right to initiate force against someone who only "holds" misery or has just been relieved of one's misery.
In Block's view, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for guilt (e.g., a violation of libertarian principles) and thus justification for punishment by the libertarian Nuremberg trials, that a person be a state official. For instance, people, who have used eminent domain to help enrich themselves, ought not to be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains.
Serious attempts to trace property back to original owners would not normally be made. However, in cases where proof could be provided and this could be done, claimants would come forth to state their cases. Most likely, these trials would work via the homesteading of claims by first-comers, perhaps by insurance companies providing private dispute resolution services.
These trials would not be arbitrary, but would be brought by specific claimants, either specific victims, or defense insurance companies trying to improve market standing, and indirectly acting on behalf of many victims. The benefits might be seen in terms of lower premiums, which insurance companies homesteading claims against statists could afford to offer to gain more customers. Another way that this might work is through outlawry trials. Offering insurance for private protection is a business, and companies cannot afford to insure individuals who are incredibly high risks. Individuals who might be the recipients of much hostility and attempted repossession in a free market – i.e., prominent statists – would likely have difficulty finding protection agencies willing to protect them. Evidence-based trials could be held at the request of these individuals, in which case their guilt may or may not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Block believes that government management of roads and highways is not only inefficient but also deadly. "Road socialism" causes the deaths of more than 35,000 people in the United States each year. And although many people blame highway deaths on alcohol, unsafe vehicles, or speeding, Block lays the blame on the government officials who manage the highway system. "It may well be that speed and alcohol are deleterious to safe driving; but it is the road manager’s task to ascertain that the proper standards are maintained with regard to these aspects of safety. If unsafe conditions prevail in a private, multistory parking lot, or in a shopping mall, or in the aisles of a department store, the entrepreneur in question is held accountable."
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