Q & A

Here are some questions that have recently been posed to me. Hopefully, these inquiries, plus my responses, will be of interest. Note to all those who send me questions of this sort: I reserve the right to blog your inquiries and my responses to them, but shall keep your identity anonymous.

Q1. Donald Trump (half in jest?) told his guards to confiscate the coats of people who came to one of his speeches to heckle him. Is this compatible with libertarian punishment theory.

A1: Yes and no. If he announced this beforehand (and was the owner of the venue, or this was approved by that person), then yes. Property owners should be able to set whatever rules guest must abide by, but only if this was widely publicized. I wrote about this under the title of “murder park” here and here.

But, suppose the owner, in this case The Donald, did not publicly proclaim this unusual punishment to all and sundry. Then, it would not be justified. For under such a system, actual outright murder could legally occur. I invite you to my home. As soon as you enter, I pull a gun on you, tell you that my rules are that all guests are fair game, and shoot you dead. Surely, this outrageous behavior of mine should not be considered legal in any civilized system of law. The Privatization of R... Walter Block Best Price: $798.00 (as of 07:35 EDT - Details)

Then, too, the idea that all property owners may concoct their own rules and that this is the beginning and end of libertarian law must be fallacious on yet another ground: how do we adjudicate acts that take place not within the holding of one proprietor, but between two or more of them? Suppose A throws a ball, misses his target, and breaks B’s window? Or C wants to store dynamite or an atom bomb for that matter in his home in a large city? No, no, no, libertarian law encompasses far more than everyone can make up his own rules on his own property.  We need a principle. Happily, there is an entire literature on what libertarian law should be; see here, here, here, here, here, here and here:

In the view of Rothbard (1998, p. 88, ft. 6): “It should be evident that our theory of proportional punishment—that people may be punished by losing their rights to the extent that they have invaded the rights of others—is frankly a retributive theory of punishment, a ‘tooth (or two teeth) for a tooth’ theory. Retribution is in bad repute among philosophers, who generally dismiss the concept quickly as ‘primitive’ or ‘barbaric’ and then race on to a discussion of the two other major theories of punishment: deterrence and rehabilitation. But simply to dismiss a concept as ‘barbaric’ can hardly suffice; after all, it is possible that in this case, the ‘barbarians’ hit on a concept that was superior to the more modern creeds.”

If I had to summarize this in one phrase, it would be, “the punishment should fit (be proportional) to the crime.”

Q2. I am writing because my argument for the free market has reached an obstacle, which I am having trouble figuring out. The other day I was making the case for private roads. I live in a small town, which has a high street running through the center, which leads to a dead-end. I was asked, “what if a psychopathic individual buys this road and starts charging monopoly prices?” Is the solution really to just build another road, when such a small town is hardly worth the investment? Surely the only way to oppose this is to get government to force the psychopath to sell the main road? When you have really small towns, the roads become very important. I hope it doesn’t take much time to answer this. Thanks and regards,

A2. I do answer that question in this book: I spend quite a few pages in that book dealing with precisely this objection. My short answer is that under a free society, that road would likely be owned by the people who owned the Defending the Undefend... Walter Block Best Price: $2.69 Buy New $10.80 (as of 09:20 EDT - Details) contiguous property. Timing is very important here. Who came first to homestead land, own property, contiguous to the road? If the homeowners, they’d never acquiesce in a stranger owning the road, able to box them in. If the road owner was there first, he would want to induce people to build houses alongside his road, and thus would have to sign a contract with such people, otherwise they would not agree to purchase such terrain. Right now, before purchasing a home, people buy title insurance, to make sure the vendor really owns the property in question. No one now buys a home without it. In the free society, with private roads, they would also buy access insurance, to obviate just this threat. No one would buy a home or business without it.

Q3. A trespasses onto B’s property and yet leaves no trace of his passage and no one knows until after the fact.  Is this a violation of libertarian law?

A3. Yes. The law against attempted murder is legitimate in the libertarian code. A shoots at B but misses him. A does so with a silencer, so B is unaware of the fact that he was targeted. But, according to libertarianism, not only physical invasions are proscribed, but also “mere” threats. If shooting at someone is not a threat against him, then nothing is. A similar analysis applies to the lesser law violation of trespass. It too, is legally illicit, even though there is no trace of his property rights violation.

Q4. A person exhales onto another person’s property and thus trespasses his carbon dioxide onto his neighbor’s holdings. Is this a violation of libertarian law?

A4. In proper law, there is a concept of de minimus. Translation: the law does not take into account trifles.  Breathing on your own property, or even on or near the fence between yours and your neighbors’, is minimally invasive. So much so, it does not contravene any just law. Of course, if you stand in front of someone, 3 inches away from him, and raucously exhale at him, that would be akin to assault and battery. Just how far does the heavy breather have to be from his target for him to be declared innocent? That is an insoluble continuum problem. On that, see this.

Also, for the best essay ever published on this sort of thing, on law in general and on environmentalism, see this.

Q5.  At the dining hall on Loyola’s campus you use punches or tickets or cards of some sort to exchange for food. Now, you are allowed to use these at any time while the dining hall is open I assume. But I doubt they have enough Ron Paul for President... Walter E. Block Best Price: $21.96 Buy New $25.95 (as of 02:35 EDT - Details) food at any one time to serve everyone if they all wanted three meals in a row, so isn’t this a sort of fractional reserve banking? They store food so you don’t have to carry it around, and you have a demand deposit to withdraw food. If fractional reserve banking is illegitimate wouldn’t dining halls, in their current form, be as well?

A5. (This query is from a high school senior who is thinking of enrolling at Loyola in the fall, and has made a campus visit). Good point. I thank you for keeping me on my toes, once again. However, read the attached essay; the part about fractional reserve parking lots, airline overbooking, etc. at the very end of the article. I think my co authors and I cover your question there.

Q6. Couldn’t a time deposit note could be used as a medium of exchange, allowing for an increase in the money supply without any fractional reserve banking occurring?

A6. (this is a follow up to A5) Yes, pretty much anything could be used as a medium of exchange: bananas, apricots, sand, time deposits too. And, yes, also, if these things were added to the money stock, it would perforce increase. But, the Rothbardian Austro-libertarian position only opposes fractional reserve banking for demand deposits, not time deposits. For some readings on this, see here, here, here, here, here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Most people will not read all of these. The last few are by Murray Rothbard, and, as per usual, they are scintillating. So, if you only read a few, read those.

Q7 Dr. Block, Recent musings in the circle of libertarian blogs have challenged and humbled me, for which I’m grateful. Are my thoughts consistent with the brand of  Libertarianism professed by the likes of you, Rothbard, and Rockwell? Rothbard says the only justification for death as retaliation is as a response to murder, but what about instances where a victim of aggression is overpowered, and can only take extreme measures to protect the self? IE – shooting someone dead. I can’t justify a victim being expected to accept the violation as it happens, but I can’t picture Rothbard justifying it either. I wouldn’t mind some insight on the issue from a wiser mind than mine.

A7. Thanks for your kind comment. Good question. Murray quite properly distinguishes between the use of force while the victim is under attack, and afterward, when the criminal is caught and about to be sentenced. In the former case, Murray, again quite properly, avers to the effect that the victim may use deadly force to protect himself if needs be. But, in the latter case, killing should be reserved only for the most serious of crimes. I think this is very reasonable and eminently compatible with libertarian theory and common sense too. Here is the best reading on this matter.