Grabbing Air and Murdering Innocent People

Dear Aleksander:

I am honored that you come to me for help in resolving difficult to answer questions about libertarian theory.

I’m delighted that this book led you to me:

Block, Walter E. and Peter Lothian Nelson. 2015. Water Capitalism: The Case for Privatizing Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers. New York City, N.Y.: Lexington Books, Rowman and Littlefield;

Happily, I have already published on the “air grabber” as I characterize him:

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Response to Feser on libertarianism.” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics; Vol. XVIII, No. 3, pp. 547-572;

Best regards,


From: Aleksander Serwiński

Sent: Saturday, September 19, 2020 6:53 AM


Subject: A strange libertarian case

Dear Professor,

During a discussion among libertarian friends, we raised the topic of the so-called free goods, such as the water in the ocean or the air we breathe.

An extremely interesting, though very abstract case in libertarian ethics appeared in the discussion. If a man were able to appropriate all of the earth’s current oxygen supply – with a giant machine – would he have a right to do so, or would it break the NAP?

Free goods become economic goods when they become scarce. Long ago, land was a free good until fencing. From the standpoint of libertarian ethics, mixing free / no one’s good with work makes us its owner.

Basically, it was difficult for us to find a clear position as to whether and at what point aggression would occur – although the consequences for the rest of humanity would of course be deplorable. Since we know the professor’s book on the privatization of the oceans, we concluded that there would be no better person around the world who could respond to such a question.

An important point in the whole reasoning seems to be the identification of the point in time when free air becomes, in the described actual state, an economic good. Perhaps air, due to its unique properties, cannot be originally appropriated – and breathing human beings is some form of mixing it with work? It seems problematic in this understanding that biological activities are not a manifestation of human action.

I hope that despite the seemingly absurd nature of the case, you will see an intellectual value in it, as do we. Thus, we very much count on a (even short) answer.

Yours faithfully,

Libertarian and sympathizer from Poland,

Aleksander Serwiński


6:56 am on December 28, 2020