Reparations For Slavery

From: Milo

To: [email protected]

Subject: Reparations

Hi Walter,

As always you have a strong, nuanced argument.  I love and admire your ability to push principles to their limits and see what happens.

You assume that the expropriated value of the slave’s labor is 100% embedded in the property.  You need that assumption to claim the current owner owes 100% of the current property to the descendants of the slaves that worked on that property.

Given agreement on stolen property, consider these issues:

Suppose the stolen value of the slave labor was 100% embedded in the land, but now that particular land is worthless.  What then?

suppose the stolen value of the slave labor was 100% embedded in the land, but the increase in the real value of the land is due to subsequent improvements, the use of modern fertilizers and the use of newly developed hybrid seeds.   What part of the current value is owed?

Suppose the stolen value of the slave labor was 100% embedded in the land (as you posited), and when the slave owners died their N children shared equally in the estate.  Suppose one of the N children bought out the rest: N-1.  The N-1 children received (N-1)/N of the stolen value.  Only 1/N remains with the original property.  Suppose we assume a generation is 25 years, we consider the 150 years since the end of the Civil war, and we assume N children on average for each of the 7 generations, then 1/(N^7) of the current property value is owed by the current property owner. If N = 2, then 1/128; if N = 3, then 1/2,187.

But this assumes the stolen slave labor equals the total value of the property.  This means the slave involved could have bought the entire property had the slave owner had to buy their service.  This seems unlikely.  In Northern farms having a hired man to help run the farm — or having a hired woman to help with the kids and the household involved little more than providing room, board and a little spending money.  Thus, all that is at issue is the market value of their service, minus room, board and any spending money.

Now suppose the slave was a household slave: cooking, washing, etc.  The stolen labor meant the slave owners became wealthier than they would have if they had to purchase those services on the open market.  This excess wealth could have been inherited by their descendants.  Or the original slave owners could have used it to buy other properties — which could have been inherited and still fall under your stolen property argument.  But the original slave owners could have used the excess wealth to buy services which they consumed in their entirety.  Thus, there is nothing owed by any of the slave-owner’s descendents.

More important than any of these small arguments is whether there is a statute of limitations in Libertarian philosophy.  I was introduced to Libertarian (and anarcho-capitalism) in the 60s and 70s.  I attended the First Libertarian Conference in NYC with Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard.  Can you provide any references on whether the statute of limitations has any status for libertarians?


Dear Milo:

Thanks for your kind words.

You attribute to me, falsely, that I: “assume that the expropriated value of the slave’s labor is 100% embedded in the property” Where’d you get that from?

My jusification for reparations is a bit different: I assume the validity of ex post (libertarian) law; to wit, (coercive) slavery is per se a crime, even if legal at the time. What should be the penalty, then, for slave holding? Poetic justice: to become the slave of the ex slaves. What happens to the property of the criminal slaveholder? It should be given over, in its entirety, to the ex slaves. That’s my justification. It matters little, in my analysis, as to how much of the slave’s labor is embedded in the property. Joe is a slave. Pete is his owner. Pete has property all over the place, in Alabama, where Joe worked on Pete’s plantation, and, also, in France, Canada, etc. Certainly, none of Joe’s labor is “embedded” in Pete’s property in France, Canada, etc. Yet, in my view, Joe should now own ALL of Petes property, yes, in Alabama, but, also, in these other places.

Here are some of my publications on this issue:

Suppose my grandfather stole a wristwatch from your grandfather. Then, my grandfather passed it down to my dad, who gave it to me. Posit, that had this theft not taken place, your granddad would have given the watch to your dad, and from him it would have passed on to you. Should I be compelled, by law, to hand over that watch to you? It still has your grandfather’s initials, or picture, or both, on it.

You say I should keep it? You want to promote theft? I say, I owe you that watch. That’s the case for reparations

Here are my publications on this matter:

Alston and Block, 2007; Amos and Block, unpublished; Block, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2019, 2014, 2020A, 2020B; Block and Yeatts, 1999-2000; Crepelle and Block, 2017; Nouveau and Block, 2020.

Alston, Wilton D. and Walter E. Block. 2007. “Reparations, Once Again.” Human Rights Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, September, pp. 379-392;

Amos, Jon-Paul and Walter E. Block. Unpublished. “Contra Horowitz: A Case for Reparations to Blacks for Slavery.”

Block, Walter E. 1993. “Malcolm X,” Fraser Forum, January, pp. 18-19;

Block, Walter E. 2001. “The Moral Dimensions of Poverty, Entitlements and Theft,” The Journal of Markets and Morality, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 83-93;; Search for “Walter Block” under “Authors” here:

Block, Walter E. 2002A. “On Reparations to Blacks for Slavery,” Human Rights Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, July-September, pp. 53-73;

(David Horowitz, Randall Robinson)

Block, Walter E. 2020B. “Return of Stolen Property: A Libertarian Case for Reparations.” December 18;

Block, Walter E. 2019. “Return of Stolen Property: A Libertarian Case for Reparations.” December 23;

Block, Walter E. 2020. “Reparations.” February 16;

Block, Walter E. and Guillermo Yeatts. 1999-2000. “The Economics and Ethics of Land Reform: A Critique of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s ‘Toward a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform,’” Journal of Natural Resources and Environmental Law, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 37-69;

Crepelle, Adam and Walter E. Block. 2017. “Property Rights and Freedom:  The Keys to Improving Life in Indian Country.” Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice; Vol. 23, Issue 2, Article, 3, pp. 314-342;

Houma Indian

Nouveau, Lucas and Walter E. Block. 2020. “A comment on reparations for slavery.” Libertas: Segunda Epoca;

Best regards,



4:12 am on April 19, 2023