Would You Steal A Penny To Save The World?

From: Brandon

To: Walter Block <[email protected]>

Dear Walter,

I’ve been hearing from a lot of libertarians online that if they were given the option of stealing a penny to save the world, they would not steal the penny. Although I absolutely understand the ethics behind it, the scenario seems extremely discomforting. Although I understand stealing a penny to save the world is unjust, it seems like one of those things you’d do either way out of fear. But some of the people I’ve spoken to not only regard stealing a penny to save the world unjust, but they’ve even said they would refuse to steal the penny if the scenario was real. Could you imagine any line of reasoning that could possibly justify stealing a penny to save the world or is it the case of it being unjust clear cut? Also, would you steal a penny to save the world?

Thank you.

Yours truly,


Dear Brandon:

Of course I’d steal a penny to save the world. I’d steal a lot more than that to save the world.

The problem with these libertarians is that they are stuck on libertarianism 101, the non aggression principle, and private property rights. That’s a good approximation of libertarianism. No, it is a VERY good approximation on intro to libertarianism. But it is not advanced libertarianism.

What, you may ask, is advanced libertarianism. It is punishment theory. It says the if you steal a penny, here’s the punishment for you.

I was just watching the magnficient movie, Dr. Strangelove. My favorite episode was the scene where mandrake demanded that this idiot soldier shoot a coke machine, to get a dime, to call the president, to enable him to call off a nuclear strike against the USSR, to save the entire world. This idiot initially refused, on the ground that “that’s private property.” This is a ploy used by the left to embarrass us libertarians.

Here’s some biblio on libt punishment theory:

Block, 2009A, 2009B, 2016, 2018; Gordon, 2020; Kinsella, 1996, 1997; Loo and Block, 2017-2018; Olson, 1979; Rothbard, 1977, 1998; Whitehead and Block, 2003

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “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;;; festschrift

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

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Russian Roulette: Rejoinder to Robins.” Acta Economica et Turistica. Vol. 1, No. 2, May, pp.  197-205;; file:///C:/Users/walterblock/Downloads/AET_2_Block_6.pdf

Block, Walter E. 2018. “The case for punishing those responsible for minimum wage laws, rent control and protectionist tariffs.”  Revista Jurídica Cesumar – Mestrado, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 235-263;

Gordon, David. 2020. “Rothbard and Double Restitution.” September 4;

Loo, Andy and Walter E. Block. 2017-2018. “Threats against third parties: a libertarian analysis.” Baku State University Law Review; Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 52-64;

Kinsella, Stephen. 1996. “Punishment and Proportionality: the Estoppel Approach,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, pp. 51-74;

Kinsella, Stephan. 1997. “A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights,” 30 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 607-45

Olson, Charles B. 1979. “Law in Anarchy.” Libertarian Forum. Vol. XII, No. 6, November-December, p. 4;

Rothbard, Murray N. 1977. “Punishment and Proportionality.”  R. E. Barnett and J. Hagel, III (eds.), Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process.  Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., pp. 259‑270.

Rothbard, Murray N. 1998. The Ethics of Liberty, New York: New York University Press.;

In the view of Rothbard (1998, p. 88, ft. 6): “It should be evident that our theory of proportional punishment—that people may be punished by losing their rights to the extent that they have invaded the rights of others—is frankly a retributive theory of punishment, a ‘tooth (or two teeth) for a tooth’ theory. Retribution is in bad repute among philosophers, who generally dismiss the concept quickly as ‘primitive’ or ‘barbaric’ and then race on to a discussion of the two other major theories of punishment: deterrence and rehabilitation. But simply to dismiss a concept as ‘barbaric’ can hardly suffice; after all, it is possible that in this case, the ‘barbarians’ hit on a concept that was superior to the more modern creeds.”

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2003. “Taking the assets of the criminal to compensate victims of violence: a legal and philosophical approach,” Wayne State University Law School Journal of Law in Society Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall, pp.229-254


3:40 am on March 25, 2023