Wednesday, March 11, 2020

On Walter Block's Support for Forced Quarantines Because of the Wuhan Coronavirus

By Robert Wenzel

Dr. Walter Block's support, in a reply to a question (SEE: Walter Block on Quarantines Because of the Coronavirus), on forced quarantines is getting some notice.

See for example:
In his comment Block notes that his view contrasts with the view of other important libertarians:
I support forced quarantines for the coronavirus. I disagree with Lew Rockwell and also Murray Rothbard (who is well deservedly known as “Mr. Libertarian”) on this issue:
I think the key to understanding Block's perspective is when he writes:
 “It is important to insist, however, that the threat of aggression be palpable, immediate, and direct, in short, that it be embodied in the initiation of an overt act. Any remote or indirect criterion—any ‘risk’ or ‘threat’—is simply an excuse for invasive action by the supposed ‘defender’ against the alleged ‘threat.’” Murray hammers home the point...
Where I depart from these two leaders of the libertarian movement is on the precise meaning of “palpable, immediate, and direct,”. I am an Austrian economist, as are, of course, both Lew and Murray. As Austrians, all three of us adhere to subjectivity as one of the very basic foundations of the entire praxeological school. 
What Block writes here is correct, however, I just don't think he puts the pieces together to fit properly.

Yes, he is right that Lew and Murray view the threat differently than he does.

Yes, he is right they all "adhere to subjectivity as one of the very basic foundations of the entire praxeological school."

But the subjectivity just isn't taken far enough. Why does Walter, Lew, Murray or anyone else get to act and set rules across a region?

The only civilized thing to do is to adopt the principles of the private property society. That is, let everyone set their own rules for their own property.

If people only want others on their property who have been tightly screened, great.

If others don't care if others are screened and allow anyone on their property, great.

If people don't want anyone on their property, great.

If people only want to travel and shop where people have been tightly screened, great.

If others don't care if others are screened for travel and shopping, great.

The solution to many complex appearing problems is respect for private property rather than attempting to rule over all people.

It is to take subjectivism to a deeper level.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that every important advance in economic theory during the last hundred years was a further step in the consistent application of subjectivism- F. A. Hayek
Hayek was specifically referencing economic theory here but his notion of the importance of applying subjectivism should be a pointer on how to think about all of human action including societal order.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.comand Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bankand most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


  1. With the CoronaCaust closing in, are Libertarians still for open borders? Just curious.