Walter Edward Block (born 21 August 1941) is an American Austrian School economist and anarcho-capitalist theorist. He currently holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He is best known for his 1976 book Defending the Undefendable, which takes contrarian positions in defending acts which are illegal or disreputable but Block argues are actually victimless crimes or benefit the public.
It was 1963, and college student Walter Block was, by his own admission, 'a dumb pinko.' Ayn Rand came to visit Brooklyn College, and Block decided to attend her lecture — just so he could boo and hiss! After her speech, he decided that he had not booed or hissed enough, so he decided to attend the free luncheon being held in her honor. Of course, Block, not being a member of the Objectivist Study Group, was seated a long way from the guest of honor. So ... he decided to march right up to the head table, stick his head between Rand and Nathaniel Branden, and tell them that there was a socialist who wanted to debate them.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University. He is also an Adjunct Scholar at the Mises Institute and the Hoover Institute. He has previously taught at the University of Central Arkansas, Holy Cross College, Baruch (C.U.N.Y.) and Rutgers Universities. He earned a B.A. in philosophy from Brooklyn College (C.U.N.Y.) in 1964 and a Ph.D. degree in economics from Columbia University in 1972.
In an important article entitled "Libertarianism or Libertinism," the Rothbardian Walter Block expanded the definition [of libertarianism given by Rothbard]. "Libertarianism is a political philosophy ... concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation. That is it, in a nutshell. The rest is mere explanation, elaboration, and qualification – and answering misconceived objections."
Libertarianism Rightly Conceived, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 2 May 2014
Responds to criticisms made by Walter Block and Lew Rockwell about Charles W. Johnson's "Libertarianism through Thick and Thin" (July 2008) and Richman's "What Social Animals Owe to Each Other" (April/July 2014)
In a recent lecture, libertarian economist Walter Block rebutted the case for thick libertarianism, ... by insisting that libertarianism is only about nonaggression combined with property rights acquired through homesteading. But insistence is not argument. He went on to rebut my proposition that libertarianism is intimately associated with individualism ... Where Block goes wrong is in conflating ethical/political individualism, which is based on the idea of the human being as a social animal, with what we might call lifestyle, or atomistic, individualism, which I never claimed was the essence of libertarianism.
Rothbard displayed a buoyant sense of humor. Wary of his radicalism, recalled College of the Holy Cross economics professor Walter Block, "I had expected some lean, mean muscle man, say about 6'2" and 180 lbs., toting a machine gun in one hand and a bomb in the other. Instead, I met this little fat man who kept up a rapid fire of positively wicked jokes; the danger, I soon perceived, was not going to jail or being blown up, but rather dying from stomach cramps brought on by uncontrollable laughter."
Murray Rothbard, in his life, was known as Mr. Libertarian. We can make a solid case that the title now belongs to Walter Block, a student of Rothbard's whose own vita is as thick as a big-city phonebook, and as diverse as Wikipedia. Whether he is writing on economic theory, ethics, political secession, drugs, roads, education, monetary policy, social theory, unions, political language, or anything else, his prose burns with a passion for this single idea: if human problems are to be solved, the solution is to be found by permitting greater liberty. Yes, Walter Block is provocative.
Block Attacks Rockwell for 'Extremism', 28 Jul 2006
A tongue-in-cheek commentary by Block on Rockwell's "The Real Cause of Blackouts" (27 July 2006) about California and New York blackouts and his demand for privatizing utilities
There is this guy, Lew Rockwell, who writes regularly on these pages. I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but the man is an extremist. Yes, I repeat that: an extremist! He has no sense of proportion, nor balance. Instead, he marks out the most extreme positions on any given subject, and tries to make them sound, horrors!, reasonable ... It is totally comprehensible that this group limps along with an extremely (get that!?! poetic justice, here) small budget, compared to other "free market" think tanks that have caved in, no, no, I meant, taken on a more moderate position ... Down with Rockwell! Boo, Lew. He stinks.
New Orleans is now undergoing an unprecedented murder rate, even for the Big Uneasy. How can we dig our way out of this morass? The usual suspect solutions have all been tried, have not worked in the past, and will not help us now. According to the conventional wisdom, the way to stop people from shooting at each other is to improve our public schools ... New Orleans, let us legalize drugs! We have only to lose our title as a place where people are shot down in cold blood en masse. Mayor Nagin, let's go free enterprise. We won't be 'chocolate' city; we'll be drug city instead. Safer, and a lot more prosperous.
Milton Friedman RIP, Mises Daily, 16 Nov 2006
In memoriam, focusing on Friedman's positives and including several personal recollections
Milton Friedman died today at age 94. May he rest in peace. I don't want to discuss the Reagan and Thatcher "revolutions" he supposedly inspired. Nor his "Free to Choose" series, his many years with the University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution, or his Nobel Prize in Economics ... I regard Milton as my intellectual grandfather. He was on Gary Becker's dissertation committee, and Gary was my dissertation advisor. I am one of literally thousands of his intellectual grandchildren by this way of calculating such matters, since Milton guided literally several hundred graduate students ...
On Autobiography, 4 Dec 2002
Autobiographical, recounts how Block met Ayn Rand and later Murray Rothbard and how he progressed from libertarian minarchism to anarcho-capitalism; and pleads other libertarians to write "how they first were introduced to this philosophy"
One of the (very few, perhaps the only) problems I have with the publication output of Murray N. Rothbard is that he never wrote his autobiography. Don't ask me which of his articles or books I would wish not to have been written, so as to leave room for this non existent autobiography. ... It took me a matter of hours to be converted to libertarian minarchism. It took a matter of minutes, I was so ready for it, I had invested so much into the preliminaries of it, to see the light on anarcho-capitalism. Austrianism took months, maybe years; in a sense, many years later, now, I am still working on it.
Open Letter to Barack Obama, 16 May 2008
Explains why foreign policy is more important than economics or civil liberties when it comes to choosing between the major presidential candidates and offers some advice to then Senator (and candidate) Obama
As a libertarian, I must of course support for the presidency of the U.S. in the upcoming election whoever is the candidate of the Libertarian Party. (It’s a libertarian thing; you wouldn’t understand.) However, as a citizen, and political actor, ... I favor you above the other two. Why? ... Learn some economics, for goodness sakes. ... Here are two great introductory places to start ... And, I promise that if you so much as look at these latter two publications, I will stand ready to answer any questions you may have and to otherwise tutor you on basic economics.
Rent Control, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics
Defines rent control, its general effects, its effects on tenants and offers some solutions; citing supporting examples from New York City and elsewhere
New York State legislators defend the War Emergency Tenant Protection Act—also known as rent control—as a way of protecting tenants from war-related housing shortages. The war referred to in the law is not the 2003 war in Iraq, however, or the Vietnam War; it is World War II. That is when rent control started in New York City. ... The surest way to encourage private investment is to signal investors that housing will be safe from rent control. ... Paradoxically, one of the best ways to help tenants is to protect the economic freedom of landlords.
Why Be An Economist? To Be Happy, That's Why, Mises Daily, 21 Dec 2006
Contrasts Block's recommendations to students interested in economics (getting a PhD. and becoming a professor or similar career) vs. advice from another professor (majoring in economics and finance with a view towards a finance career)
I have of late become embroiled with a colleague and friend of mine who shall remain nameless ... My advice to my very best students, the ones who are bright and, more important, have been really bitten by the Austro-libertarian bug thanks to both our efforts and those of our several other colleagues, is to major in economics ... I hope that one day this colleague of mine will be convinced of the error of his ways, and join me in this endeavor. If there is one thing I am passionate about, it is passing on to the next generation the baton that Murray Rothbard a while ago passed on to me and my contemporaries.
[Mingardi:] How has your thought changed these past 22 years, if it has changed? In particular, regarding your 'defense' of prostitution and pornography? [Block:] No, I have been stuck in a rut for the past few decades. I have broadened my knowledge, and come across many more arguments, but I still hold to the libertarian view that the law should only prohibit invasive violence or the threat thereof. Since pornography and prostitution are not physically aggressive, they should be legalized. I don't think too much of them on moral grounds, but that is an entirely different issue.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies? Before I answer this question, let me say that I think it is a very good one. We Austro-libertarians are more, much more, than economists and political philosophers. In addition to being scholars, we are also human beings, with many, many other interests ... What is your favorite literary work? My favorite literary work is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The first time I read it, I was 22 years old ... I may be forgiven for spending time reading escape novels. Some of them are really pretty good, way better ... than the work by that pre commie, Charles Dickens.
The Non-Aggression Axiom, The Lew Rockwell Show, 4 Aug 2008
Rockwell asks Block to explain the non-agression axiom and he goes on to talk about property rights, how Rothbard convinced him that even limited government violates the axiom, and why government cannot be viewed as a club that you join
Radical Economics: An Interview with Walter Block, Austrian Economics Newsletter, 1999
Discusses topics such as the effect of Rothbard's death, Block's own intellectual development, the legality of blackmail and barriers to Austrians in academia
AEN: What was the effect of Rothbard's death on the Austrian movement? Block: There's a line in The Godfather spoken by someone after the Don dies: 'we've lost half our power.' It's the same with the Austrian movement. He was just one economist but he knew everything, including what all our opponents were up to and where all the bodies are buried. At the same time, he lives on through the people he influenced, personally and through his writings. ... It's one thing to be a socialist and be utterly wrong on everything. But it is far worse to wave the flag of free enterprise while making huge exceptions.
Walter Block Interview, by Walter Block, Scott Horton, The Scott Horton Show, 30 Jul 2005
"Walter Block discusses how Austrian economics compares to the other schools on the questions of regulation, monopoly, gold, roads, and a land without a state."
Walter Block Is an Anarchist, The Lew Rockwell Show, 28 Jul 2009
Rockwell asks Block whether he is an anarchist and they discuss various books and articles that cover the topic
Defending the Undefendable: The Pimp, Prostitute, Scab, Slumlord, Libeler, Moneylender, and Other Scapegoats in the Rogue's Gallery of American Society
by Walter Block, Friedrich Hayek (commentary), Murray Rothbard (foreword), 1976
Partial contents: The Drug Addict - The Slanderer and Libeler - The Advertiser - The Gypsy Cab Driver - The Inheritor - The Moneylender - The Speculator - The Importer - The Middleman - The Profiteer - The Fat Capitalist-Pig Employer