Is Epstein A Criminal? A Libertarian Analysis

From: M
Sent: Friday, July 12, 2019 3:27 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Curious
Aloha Dr. Block,

I am a (somewhat recent) fan of yours and wanted to thank you for the numerous works you have produced. Naturally, I haven’t read them all. I have however enjoyed the Defending… topics. In fact, reading them were responsible for turning me from a (basically) leftist leaning anarchist to an anarcho-capitalist with an interest in economics- something that never appealed to me.

The reason I am reaching out, is because in the past week, with the Epstein arrest and a large human trafficking bust in the UK- I felt discouraged that news commentators do not give, what I consider, a clear and accurate assessment of these prescient economic topics and instead play upon people’s fears. And it seems this type of reporting perpetuates the conditions for these ‘crimes’ to continue. I wish instead that people focused on inuring potential victims from being susceptible by improving their economic conditions- as of course anyone with more options would not choose to suffer.

I wondered if you would comment on it or if you were considering writing something about it. Maybe it’s too repetitive of a topic to interest you.

At any rate, please know that I am inspired by your work.

Thank you, M

Dear M:

Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad I had a role in converting you to the One True Faith!

If Epstein used physical violence to have his way with any of these young girls, let alone lots of them, he is a rapist, and, according to libertarian punishment theory (see below), should be severely punished for this crime.

On the other hand, if this was a voluntary act on the part of those young girls, they agreed to be paid for their sexual services, then this is prostitution. Disgusting, in my personal view, but this would not be a criminal act.

The complication is the age of these girls. If they were 18 at the time, let alone 21, and there was no physical violence on the part of Epstein, then, he is guilty of no crime, at least according to libertarian law. But, some of them were as young as 14. Let’s stipulate that this is true. They are thus “underage” and Epstein should be punished, according to extant law, even if they were willing to engage in sex with him. What about libertarian law on this matter? Here, if fear, there is no clear answer. It is a continuum problem.

See on this:

Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166, June;;

If we had private courts, then, whatever they said on this matter, in my view, would be the properly determining factor. But we don’t. So, I submit, there is no clear libertarian answer to this conundrum. It is not clear, under this assumption, that Epstein is a criminal, nor, that he is innocent of a crime. Again, ,we are assuming no physical violence on his part, arguendo.

We must of course distinguish between libertarianism and libertinism:

Block, Walter E. 1994. “Libertarianism and Libertinism,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 117-128;; Russian translation, tba

On my assumptions, Epstein is clearly one of the latter. But, as I say, it is not clear that he violates libertarian principles.

I hope and trust this is helpful to you.

Best regards,


Libertarian punishment theory:

Block, 2009A, 2009B, 2016, 2018; Kinsella, 1996, 1997; Loo and Block, 2017-2018; Olson, 1979; Rothbard, 1977, 1998; Whitehead and Block, 2003

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism” in Hulsmann, Jorg Guido and Stephan Kinsella, eds., Property, Freedom and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 137-148;;; festschrift

Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1;

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Russian Roulette: Rejoinder to Robins.” Acta Economica et Turistica. Vol. 1, No. 2, May, pp.  197-205;; file:///C:/Users/walterblock/Downloads/AET_2_Block_6.pdf

Block, Walter E. 2018. “The case for punishing those responsible for minimum wage laws, rent control and protectionist tariffs.”  Revista Jurídica Cesumar – Mestrado, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 235-263;;

Loo, Andy and Walter E. Block. 2017-2018. “Threats against third parties: a libertarian analysis.” Baku State University Law Review; Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 52-64;;;

Kinsella, Stephen. 1996. “Punishment and Proportionality: the Estoppel Approach,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, pp. 51-74;

Kinsella, Stephan. 1997. “A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights,” 30 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 607-45

Olson, Charles B. 1979. “Law in Anarchy.” Libertarian Forum. Vol. XII, No. 6, November-December, p. 4;

Rothbard, Murray N. 1977. “Punishment and Proportionality.”  R. E. Barnett and J. Hagel, III (eds.), Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process.  Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., pp. 259 270.

Rothbard, Murray N. 1998 The Ethics of Liberty, New York: New York University Press.;

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.”

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2003. “Taking the assets of the criminal to compensate victims of violence: a legal and philosophical approach,” Wayne State University Law School Journal of Law in Society Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall, pp.229-254


2:54 am on July 13, 2019

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