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Questions, and answers, and other matters

Here is a letter I wrote to the leaders of the Libertarian Party. I received no answer:

This is an improper way to describe libertarianism: “Libertarianism is the idea that you have the right to pursue happiness in any way you wish as long as it doesn’t hurt people or take their stuff.” We are indeed allowed to “hurt” people, for example, by competing with them for customers, spouses, etc. The proper way to say this is as follows: “Libertarianism is the idea that you have the right to pursue happiness in any way you wish as long as you do not threaten or initiate violence against people or take their stuff.”

From time to time, I get over the transom questions, that, along with my answers, I think would be of interest to the general libertarian or Austrian community. Here are four recent ones (I have lightly edited the ones sent to me from people whose first language is not English). This one was sent to me by Nathan Fryzek ([email protected]):

I would like to use some of David Friedman’s arguments against natural rights based libertarianism.

1) A light from a neighbor’s property emits photons that violate your property rights, therefore all lights should be banned if they spread any light onto the property of your neighbor. (I don’t have a solution to this)

Here is my response to this argument of David’s:

Block, Walter E. 2011. “David Friedman and Libertarianism: A Critique,” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 3, Article 35; http://libertarianpapers.org/articles/2011/lp-3-35.pdf; https://plus.google.com/u/0/107839603122535455846/posts/6QfUcBR1gTS

By the way, soon after I published this paper I sent it to Prof. Friedman, and asked him to consider publishing a response to it. It is now several years later, and he has not yet taken up my suggestion, nor, even, replied to my invitation to debate these issues.

2) A mass murderer has a nuclear weapon and threatens to use it unless I steal a nickel from you. It is unlikely that anyone libertarian would feel that it is immoral to steal it. (He is assuming interpersonal comparisons of utility are legitimate, while you and I don’t believe it is, however, do you really believe that it is impossible to know that the death of 1,000,000 people causes a greater loss of utility than your loss of utility from me stealing a nickel?)

I answer this type of argument with my focus on the libertarian Nazi concentration camp guard:

Block, Walter E. 2009. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1; http://libertarianpapers.org/articles/2009/lp-1-17.pdf; http://libertarianpapers.org/2009/17-libertarian-punishment-theory-working-for-and-donating-to-the-state/#comments

Here is another query, this one sent to me by Lukasz Dominiak ([email protected]) and Igor Wysocki ([email protected]), along with my response:

Let’s suppose there is an owner of the shopping mall who issued explicit information saying (assume there is a note hanging on the front door) that whatever customer let into his property allows for his or her burka to fall thus exposing his or her face will be beheaded on the spot. It seems that this contract is valid according to Rothbardian property transfer title theory. After all, the owner let the customers to his premises and if the burka falls off, the customer cannot get away with it. If for instance the agents hired by the owner instead of beheading him cut off his hands, the owner could rightly demand more on the basis of the fraud now (the punishment is smaller than stipulated than the contract). On the other hand, there is this theory of punishment developed by Kinsella or first and foremost Rothbard. Isn’t that theory somehow redundant when punishment can be privately stipulated by individual contracts? Is there any solution to this quandary?

Here is my response:

My answer is, yes, that’s a valid contract. If you don’t like it, stay away from the Sharia Mall.

Here are my publications on this type of issue (search them for “murder park”):

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2002. “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Property Rights Perspective,” University of Utah Journal of Law and Family Studies, Vol. 4, pp.226-263; http://141.164.133.3/faculty/Block/Articles%20for%20web/Sexual%20Harassment%20in%20the%20Workplace.doc

Block, Walter E. 2002. “Radical Privatization and other Libertarian Conundrums,” The International Journal of Politics and Ethics, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 165-175; http://www.walterblock.com/publications/radical_privatization.pdf

One last query,

From: Yossi Levanoni [mailto:[email protected]]
Subject: Will your driverless car kill you so others may live? – LA Times

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-1206-schwitzgebel-driverless-car-safety-algorithm-20151206-story.html

Paging Walter Block – who should regulate the applied ethics algorithms of driverless cars? Of course this statist philosophy professor thinks the government should. But the question of liability is interesting in a libertarian framework as well. Are you guys aware of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics? They revolved around similar ethical dilemmas. The interesting differences relative to a human driver are two-fold:

1/ the driverless car may be offered as a service, potentially reducing the ownership and hence liability of the passenger.

2/ a human driver doesn’t have to formulate ahead of time their ethical driving principles, whereas a computer program fully specifies its intentions.

Hope you find this interesting, too.

My response is that in the libertarian society, all roads and highways would be privately owned, and the proprietors of them would make any and all such decisions.

See this book of mine in which I make the case for private roads:

Block, Walter E. 2009. The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors; Auburn, AL: The Mises Institute; http://www.amazon.com/Privatization-Roads-And-Highways-Factors/dp/1279887303/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336605800&sr=1-1; available for free here: http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf; http://mises.org/daily/3416; http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/radical_privatization.pdf; audio: http://store.mises.org/Privatization-of-Roads-and-Highways-Audiobook-P11005.aspx; http://www.audible.com/pd/Business/The-Privatization-of-Roads-and-Highways-Audiobook/B0167IT18K?tag=misesinsti-20; http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=bf16b152ccc444bdbbcc229e4&id=6cbc90577b&e=54244ea97d

I am not sure how the private highway entrepreneur would likely respond to this challenge, apart from saying the market would tend to ensure his response would maximize profits, and thus consumer satisfaction. Ultimately, this is a question for engineers, managers, etc., not economists.

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9:14 pm on December 8, 2015