My answer is an unequivocal “Yes.” Here is my response to a libertarian critic of mine on this very important question:
You see a gigantic difference between a car and money. I don’t. The bottom line in your analysis is that any libertarian who works for the state is vulnerable to other people trying to pull a reductio ad absurdum on him by demanding his salary. I’m a fudger. I KNOW what the right answer is: that such a libertarian should not be so vulnerable. I’ve written quite a bit about this, see below.
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2018 1:36 PM
Subject: I still think you’re caught in a contradiction but I have a solution re: stolen property from govt
Dear Dr. Block,
In a recent email you posted on LewRockwell.com you were challenged for your position about stealing goods from the State. In particular I want to focus on your arguments that you don’t have to return stolen goods from the State to the original tax payers if they ask for it back (you mention those arguments in your 2011 article here).
I think your arguments in the latter that you don’t have to return stolen goods to the original owner (if received or stolen from the State) are not relevant and do not justify your position. I think I have a solution (using Hoppean/Kinsellian theory of property rights disputes) that will allow libertarians to maintain the position that recipients of goods (however they are acquired) from the State can still keep them (in a sense I will qualify below) but still be consistent with the general libertarian principle that if A can prove he’s the rightful owner of X, then B can be legally forced to return it to A.
Here’s the argument, I would love to get your response to it:
All that matters under libertarian theory when resolving a dispute over who owns X is who has the better claim to it─here I’m relying on the Hoppean/Kinsellian argument that the ultimate purpose (only purpose, really) of property rights in scarce resources is to resolve disputes. A dispute occurs when at least two people claim ownership over the same scarce resource. Under libertarian theory, one comes to rightfully own a scarce resource in only one of two ways: (1) one homesteaded it from a presumed unowned state in accordance with Lockean principles or (2) one received it as part of a valid contractual transfer. So a “better claim” is one where a disputant can show stronger evidence for (1) or (2) than the other disputant(s). Therefore, if─in a private libertarian court of law abiding by Hoppean/Kinsellian property theory─A proves that he is the rightful owner of X and can show why this is so with evidence of (1) or (2), while B cannot show stronger evidence of (1) or (2), then the court must rule in favor of A and can take reasonable measures to force B to give X back to A (or force B to compensate monetarily if restoring X isn’t possible).
Notice that it matters not how B got X. B could have found X on the ground, stolen it from A, received it as a gift from C, or stolen it from D who stole it from E who stole it from A. None of this matters! What matters only is the concrete claim by disputant A of original rightful ownership of X as proved by evidence of (1) or (2) against B who also claims ownership of X─this double claim to the same scarce resource triggers a Hoppean/Kinsellian property rights dispute.
(An aside: The only case I can think of where B might be ruled in favor of keeping X (apart from showing that (2) was a valid contractual transfer chain all the way back to A) is if he had reasonable grounds to believe that X was abandoned (in the technical legal sense) and thus returned to a homesteadable state which he could then rightfully homestead himself─but B would have to convince the court that the belief of abandonment was reasonable and show evidence of this, against which A could try to prove that abandonment did not actually take place or show that B’s belief in abandonment was not reasonable.)
So, how does this apply to the case where B acquires a car (whether received or stolen) from the State who previously stole it from A? Well, the fact that the State was involved in this transfer is irrelevant, as I have just argued. It doesn’t matter how B got the car. The fact that A originally bought the car from a dealership, becoming its rightful owner through principle (2)─and A has evidence in the form of a sales receipt─is not altered by the State having subsequently stolen it from him. If A can prove in a libertarian court of law that the car was rightfully his─and this is undeniable proof─then B must return the car or be forced to return it or be forced to compensate for monetary damages if car cannot be restored to A. This conclusion necessarily follows from the preceding premises. To conclude that A no longer has a rightful claim to the car in B’s possession would be a contradiction of the general libertarian principle of restoring property those who have the better claim to it.
What does this mean for libertarians (or anybody) who take money from the State, either in the form of a direct or indirect funding of salary in a position of employment, as grants, as aid or welfare payments, or any other way?
Well, applying the preceding argument, it means that if a specific taxpayer A, whose $1,000 was stolen by the State, can prove that specific dollars/cents amounts received by a group of tax-receivers (let’s say B got $500; C got $300; and, D got $200) can be directly traced back to A (either through bank transfer evidence and tax records), then it follows that a libertarian court could force B, C, and D to return the money back to A.
Now, as a practical matter, this kind of result will probably not happen in reality. First of all, most taxpayers today don’t even think taxation is theft, so libertarians (and non-libertarians alike) receiving taxpayer money today, at least for now, have no reason to fear being pulled in front of court by a taxpayer claiming their money back. Secondly, even if the majority of taxpayers did think taxation is theft and wanted their money back, there are no libertarian courts that will hear these cases. Finally, it’s probably very difficult to trace money transfers to and from the State in the age of electronic money, for the specific bits and bytes in the computers that represent B’s, C’s, or D’s bank accounts are simply turned on or off; nothing is actually transferred. However, these practical problems having been identified does not refute the conclusions of my reasoning that if A could in principle overcome these practical problems, then A must be restored his $1,000 from B, C, and D.
You brought up in your 2011 article that Ragnar stealing from the State was not morally wrong from the point of view of the NAP. I agree with that. But that has no bearing on establishing who has the better claim to the specific scarce resource under dispute between B (who got the goods from the State) and A (who is the original owner and can prove it). Nor does your point about the person asking for their tax money back needing to have “clean hands” have any bearing on this.
In conclusion, what this means for the libertarian receiving taxpayer money is that, in principle, if a specific taxpayer claimed that a specific dollar/cent amount received by specific said libertarian (again, triggering a Hoppean/Kinsellian property rights dispute) was originally their money and can show evidence tracing the transfer of said amounts back to themselves, then the said libertarian would have to accept the ruling of the court if they claim to be a libertarian at all. However, libertarians and non-libertarians today receiving money in one form or another from the State have no need to worry about this libertarian justice coming about anytime soon. And since no taxpayers will actually raise such claims─not triggering any Hoppean/Kinsellian property rights disputes─the original property right claims of those taxpayers are in state of limbo, so to speak. Thus, in the meantime the taxpayer money actually held and received by libertarians and non-libertarians is presumed to be rightfully theirs, in accordance with the rule that the current possessor of a good has the presumption of ownership.
Kind regards, B
Dear B: Here are my publications on this issue:
Block, 1972, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009A, 2009B, 2010, 2011A, 2011B, 2011C, 2011D, 2012, 2016; Block and Arakaky, 2008, Block and Barnett, 2008, D’Amico and Block, 2007
Block, Walter E. 1972. “The Polish Ham Question.” The Libertarian Forum. June-July, Vol. 4, No. 6-7, p. 5; http://www.mises.org/journals/lf/1972/1972_06-07.pdf; http://mises.org/daily/4054; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block143.html
Block, Walter E. 2002. “Accepting Government Subsidies,” Fraser Forum, February, p. 27; http://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/forum/2002/02/section_13.html
Block, Walter E. 2006. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part II” Reason Papers, Vol. 28, Spring, pp. 85-109; http://www.walterblock.com/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf; http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf; http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/28/rp_28_7.pdf; (death penalty justified, net taxpayer, ruling class analysis p. 87)
Block, Walter E. 2007. “Ron Paul and Matching Funds,” October 1;
Block, Walter E. 2008. “Replies to readers” September 23;
https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block108.html (libertarians hypocrites for using public school?)
Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1; http://libertarianpapers.org/2009/17-libertarian-punishment-theory-working-for-and-donating-to-the-state/
Block, Walter E. 2009B. “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; http://mises.org/books/hulsmann-kinsella_property-freedom-society-2009.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2010. “You are a rotten kid (rent control and libertarianism),” February 27;
Block, Walter E. 2011A. “It’s Ayn Rand Bashing Time, Once Again.” February 18; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block172.html
Block, Walter E. 2011B. “May a Libertarian Take Money From the Government?” March 11; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block175.html; https://www.lewrockwell.com/2011/03/walter-e-block/may-a-libertarian-take-money-from-the-government/
Block, Walter E. 2011C. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 22; pp. 665-675; http://mises.org/journals/jls/22_1/22_1_33.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2011D. “Hoppe, Kinsella and Rothbard II on Immigration: A Critique.” Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 593–623;http://mises.org/journals/jls/22_1/22_1_29.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2016. “Is It Compatible With Libertarianism to be a Banker? Yes!” September 29; https://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/compatible-libertarianism-banker-yes/
Block, Walter E. and Chris Arakaky. 2008. “Taking Government Money for Grad School?” May 23; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block100.html
Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166 June; http://www2.units.it/~etica/; http://www2.units.it/~etica/2008_1/BLOCKBARNETT.pdf
D’Amico, Dan and Walter E. Block. 2007. “A Legal and Economic Analysis of Graffiti” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 29-38; http://www.mises.org/journals/scholar/damico.pdf; http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/viewContainer.do?containerType=Issue&containerId=24713; http://ssrn.com/abstract=10085255:38 pm on March 31, 2019 Email Walter E. Block