Should We Trade With Dictators, Slave Owners, Nazis, etc.?

From: W
Sent: Monday, April 22, 2019 4:27 PM
Subject: Help w/ the N.A.P. on moral gray areas


My name is W. I’m a college student who’s interested in libertarianism, more specifically voluntaryism. I found this email address on

I have a question on the topic of consumer responsibility. Is it a N.A.P. violation, or an act of aggression, for a person to buy cotton that was picked by slaves in the early 19th century? Along the same lines, say a group of humans were involuntarily enslaved and butchered like cattle. Would it be a N.A.P. violation to buy human meat at a grocery store or restaurant? I apologize for graphic details. I don’t mean to be obscene.  If you can answer this question, I’d greatly appreciate it. I am a big fan of your work. I watch your lectures, and I also read your book Defending the Undefendable.

Best regards, W

Dear W:

Your question/challenge is a variant on the issue of whether we should trade with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union (I LOVE your examples, though especially the slavery – cannibalism one). I think logic alone requires that we do trade with these dictators (or purchase slave made cotton goods, or buy human flesh, assuming cannibalism is not a crime). Why?

Due to the slippery slope. If I say we shouldn’t interact with any of these evil people, what about the US govt? The latter kills, enslaves, innocent people, too (although no cannibalism, at least not yet). If we can’t buy things, interact with, trade with, the bad guys mentioned above, that means we can’t do so with the US state either. So, no travelling on the roads, no going to public schools, parks, museums, no eating food (the government subsidizes agriculture). Our only option is to become a hermit or commit suicide. Yet, libertarianism is not a death pact.

So far, I’ve given a deontological analysis. I feel secure in that, even given the difficulty of the challenges you raise. Now, let’s consider pragmatism, utilitarianism, again from a libertarian point of view. Will trading with Cuba, Venezuela, N. Korea, the USSR, etc., other bad countries, help or hurt the victims of these evil people. Here, I am less sure, since it is an empirical issue. But, I think, on net, we help the victims of Cuban communism by trading with their evil govt more than we hurt these victims by strengthening their govt.

I’ve written a lot on the deontological question, also see below.

On trading with bad guys:

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;;;

Block, Walter E. 2002. “Accepting Government Subsidies,” Fraser Forum, February, p. 27;

Block, Walter E. 2004. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part I” Reason Papers, Vol. 27, Fall, pp. 117-133;

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;;;; (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; (libertarians hypocrites for using public school?)

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

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;

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;

Block, Walter E. 2011B. “May a Libertarian Take Money From the Government?” March 11;;

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;

Block, Walter E. 2011D. “Hoppe, Kinsella and Rothbard II on Immigration: A Critique.” Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 593–623;

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Is It Compatible With Libertarianism to be a Banker? Yes!” September 29;

Block, Walter E. and Chris Arakaky. 2008. “Taking Government Money for Grad School?” May 23;

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

D’Amico, Dan and Walter E. Block. 2007. “A Legal and Economic Analysis of Graffiti” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 29-38;;;


9:17 pm on August 16, 2019