Libertarian Punishment Theory and Austrian Subjectivism: A Reconciliation?

From: J
Sent: Sunday, February 18, 2018 1:13 PM
Subject: Subjectivity of harm

Dear Dr. Block, This is a question I have been wrestling with for some time. I’ll state it as simply as I can: If value is subjective, then harm (loss of value) must also be subjective. What are the consequences of the subjectivity of harm to the principle of restitution in a private law society? Best regards, J

Dear J: Yours is an excellent question. I am an Austro-libertarian, and, I agree with you when you imply there is a “tension” not to say a down right contradiction, between libertarian punishment theory and Austrian subjectivism. I accidentally hit two cars, both of the same vintage, brand, etc. They are in every way equally expensive in terms of book value. But one of them, car A, has great sentimental value to the owner, the other, car B, none at all. How much sentimental value? 100 utils? 300 happiness units? The Austrian in me recoils from ever making sense of such a distinction. But, the libertarian in me says we must. However, we can only do so in a rough and ready way, with little or no help from the Austrian’s proper emphasis on subjectivism. One way to do so is to allow juries to add an extra amount for “pain and suffering.” Presumably, the owner of car A will get more in damages than his counterpart B, if he can convince a jury that he has indeed lost great sentimental value in the wreckage of his automobile.

Dear Readers: Every morning, when I turn on my computer, the first thing I look at is LRC. True confession: this is also the last blog I peruse when knocking off for the night. If you benefit from it, as I do, I suggest that you contribute to this venture. It for sure doesn’t run on money alone, there’s a lot of labor of love going on here, but donations certainly grease the wheels that make all this possible. If you are so inclined to contribute, go here:


6:28 pm on March 3, 2018