More Tough Libertarian Questions; Advice for Graduate School

—–Original Message—–
From: J
Sent: Mon 7/24/2017 3:38 PM
To: Walter Block
Subject: Re: hey
Dear Dr. Block, Thank you for taking the time to respond to these questions ( I had sent several of these to H so that she would ask you. I regard you as the foremost authority on libertarian philosophy and had accumulated these “stumpers” for you because I had trouble sorting them out myself. Your answers are clear and convincing. I do have one further question. It’s about the libertarian juror. I agree that putting a murderer “out of circulation” is a good deed, even if done by an immoral organization like the Crips or the government. But there is more to the analysis than that. A libertarian juror must also consider that:
1. It costs $30,000 per year to imprison a single person. So easily a half million dollars could be spent on a single defendant if he is imprisoned for life. This money is paid by innocent taxpayers, not the killer.
2. Victim’s rights are the raison d’etre of the libertarian legal system. But in the United States, a crime is considered to be committed against “society.” So when a defendant is convicted, his punishment is not determined by the victim’s family, but by prosecutors supposedly representing society. As a result, victims and their families receive little to no compensation when a defendant is convicted. In fact, instead of receiving money from the man who killed their beloved family member, they are forced through taxes to pay for his sustenance and shelter!
3. As I understand it, civil court operates more like a libertarian court would. The victim’s family prosecutes the case. The jury decides whether the defendant is guilty. If he is, the defendant must pay the victim’s family. (Admittedly, unlike in a libertarian system, the victim’s family is not given control of the defendant’s life and liberty.) But if a jury convicts a defendant in his criminal case, he will lose most of his money fighting the case and then go to prison, where he is paid pennies per day. Therefore, a civil trial after a criminal conviction will likely bear little fruit for the victim’s family. But if the defendant is acquitted in criminal court, he can keep working. That means that if they win a civil verdict, the victim’s family can likely recover his income. Since he’s guilty, and the civil standard of evidence is lower, this should be a piece of cake. Therefore, the primary objective of justice (reparations) is better served if the murderer is acquitted in his criminal trial. So our libertarian juror is really deciding whether the government should 1) lock up a murderer (very good), 2) steal $30,000 per year from taxpayers (pretty bad), and 3) undermine the chance of reparations for the victim’s family (pretty bad).

This is uncomfortable territory. We libertarians oppose murder with every fiber in our being, so how can we let a murderer go free? But the state’s legal system is so twisted that even one of the few “good” laws might entail too much injustice to accept. I think there’s a case to be made that the libertarian juror should vote not-guilty in criminal court. It goes without saying that in any reasonably libertarian system of justice, when the defendant clearly committed a violent crime, the juror should always vote guilty. Thank you for your continued time and consideration. Sincerely, J

P.S. Two years ago, I emailed you to ask whether I should go to law school or enter a philosophy Ph.D. program to best help libertarianism. I’m sure you get a lot of emails like that, but I wanted to give you the follow-up since we are corresponding again. You had said you weren’t sure which was best (understandably), but recommended law school and put me in contact with a libertarian lawyer. He was very helpful. I applied to law school, and I’m beginning at Stanford Law School next month. It’s ranked #2 or #3 in the country, depending on whom you ask. I hope I am able to use the degree to do some good. I am desperately seeking libertarian organizations I could work for. Cato is the popular recommendation, but, as a Rothbardian, I’m averse. So if you know of anything I should consider, please pass it along. I’m a hard worker. Thanks for your advice and inspiration.

Dear J: The quandary you pose about finding murderers guilty of their crime under present law, is, I think, insoluble. That is because any answer requires interpersonal comparisons of utility, which Austrian economics teaches cannot be done. An answer to your question, to put this in other words, involves us in the economics (or law, or philosophy) of second best. There are no unambiguous solutions to such problems, at least none that I know of. My only response to your challenge is to say that in the free society, crimes would be committed against specific victims, not “society,” and it will not cost a dime to care for, feed and imprison criminals. Rather, they will do hard labor to pay for their own upkeep, and anything left over will go to the victims, or their families. Then, and only then, would it be clearly just to find guilty actual murderers, or criminals of any type. You are entirely correct that under present circumstances, “there is more to the analysis than that.” But that is not the fault of libertarian theory. We should blame the present system for that.

You might be interested in a debate I had with my friend Gary North over whether or not people should go on to graduate school: Block, Walter E. 2008. “Attention Students: Should You Get Your Ph.D. and Become a Professor?” June 28; (debate with Gary North)

I’m glad you’re going to grad school. I hope and trust that you will do one or more of these things with your degree: 1. become a professor at a law school, and promote liberty that way; 2. Do pro bono work and defend victimless criminals; you could work for an organization like Institute for Justice, or FIRE; 3. Make a TON of money in commercial law, and donate a goodly bit of that to the Mises Institute; 4. Become a judge, in the vein of Andrew Napolitano.

By the way, who was this “libertarian lawyer” I put you in touch with? I want to thank him. Why did you choose law over philosophy?


5:33 pm on July 29, 2017