Thursday, July 16, 2020

Walter Block in The Wall Street Journal: Some Students Want Me Fired

Walter Block
Some Students Want Me Fired for a Thought Experiment
By Walter E. Block

A large group of students want me fired from my faculty position. The main charge they make against me is that I believe slavery is wrong for the wrong reasons—“because it goes against Libertarianism, not because it is morally wrong.”
In truth, I repudiate slavery on both grounds. I even favor reparations, but not from all whites to all blacks. Many whites came to the U.S. long after 1865 and owe nothing to anyone. Many blacks, too, are, or are descended from, recent arrivals, and are thus entitled to no compensation.
Slavery should have been declared a crime, ex post facto. The guilty should have been imprisoned and their property given to their victims, the new ex-slaves. “Forty acres and a mule” is a rough approximation of the compensation that was due. Nowadays if a great-grandchild of slaves can demonstrate this connection, he should be able to obtain acreage from the great-grandchildren of slave holders who improperly held onto their plantations.
It’s true I have argued “there is nothing inherently wrong with slavery”—an eccentric and provocative view. To understand it, consider a thought experiment: Suppose my son has a dread disease. Its cure costs $10 million, which I don’t have. You do, so we make a deal: You give me the funds. I come to your farm to harvest crops or to your home to give you economics lessons. If you don’t like the way I perform these duties, you may physically assault or kill me.
Is this a legitimate contract in the free society? I say yes. We both benefit from it, at least in theory, as in all voluntary transactions. Hence there is nothing inherently wrong with slavery; it is illicit if it is imposed by one person over another, but not if both parties agree. (I have similarly argued in these pages that socialism is unobjectionable if it is voluntary.)
Read the rest here.


  1. Walter Block is not my favorite economist or Libertarian but I do appreciate his use of the idea of voluntarism. The students who want him fired are foolish perhaps fearful of ideas. Prof. Blocks "idea experiment" should create a vigorous debate rather than an absurd call for his removal. It could be argued he is conflating slavery with voluntary contractual agreements. After all the essence of slavery is that it is not voluntary. The same could be said of socialism. And this type of debate is perhaps what Prof. Block was trying to encourage. It would be interesting to know if any students engaged him in such a debate. Those who want him fired are simply displaying a very shallow thought process.

    1. I don't agree with Block on the voluntary-slavery point, because, unlike with all other forms of property, I don't think that it is possible to transfer ownership of your body to someone else (i.e., enter into an irrevocable personal-service contract). In my view of libertarian law, Block could renege on his "deal" with the provider of $10 million and not suffer any legal consequences.

  2. Life owes nothing to anyone and never has. You can take the socialist fascist desires and pound sand.