Walter Edward Block, an Austrian School of economics economist and anarcho-capitalist, speaking on Libertarianism at the Railway Club.
Block earned his Ph.D. degree in economics from Columbia University and wrote his dissertation on rent control. Block, who is of Jewish background, self-identifies as a “devout atheist”.
Block‘s early thinking life was characterized by egalitarian thought. In an interview by the Austrian Economics Newsletter, Block stated, “In the fifties and sixties, I was just another commie living in Brooklyn.” Block credits his “conversion” to Libertarianism to personal meetings with Ayn Rand while he was an undergraduate student. Alan Greenspan was in attendance at some of these meetings. As Block describes it, “In 1963, when I was a senior at Brooklyn College, Ayn Rand came there to give a lecture. I attended, along with about 3,000 of my fellow mainly leftish students, in order to boo and hiss her, since she was evil incarnate. Afterward, the president of the group that had invited her to campus announced there was to be a luncheon in her honor, and anyone was welcome to take part, whether or not they agreed with her ideas. Not having had enough booing and hissing at Ayn in her formal lecture, I decided to avail myself of this opportunity to further express my displeasure with her and her views.”
Block thereafter attended a luncheon with Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and Leonard Peikoff. After Block’s challenging of several luncheon attendees, Branden forged an agreement with Block: “Nathan very graciously offered to come to the other end of the table with me for this purpose, but he imposed two preconditions: first, I would be honor bound not to allow this conversation to lapse with this one meeting, but would continue with it until we had achieved a resolution: either he would convince me of the error of my ways, or I would convince him of his. Second, I would read two books he would later recommend to me, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.”
Although Block credits Ayn Rand, Branden, and other Objectivists with his initial interest in laissez faire theory in general, he says of Murray Rothbard that,
“After I met Murray, it took him probably all of 15 minutes to convert me to the same anarcho-capitalist position I have held ever since…. In retrospect, before I had met Murray, I was nine tenths of the way toward embracing laissez faire capitalist anarchism; all I needed was a little push in the same direction I had already been going for some time.”
Block now holds the Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University in New Orleans. From 1979 to 1991, he was the Senior Economist with the Fraser Institute. In addition to his faculty position at Loyola, Block is also a Senior Faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute for Austrian Economics. His most famous work is Defending the Undefendable.
Block, along with Robert Nozick, is one of the leading libertarian defenders of voluntary slave contracts, arguing that a slave contract is “a bona fide contract where consideration crosses hands; when it is abrogated, theft occurs”. He critiques other libertarians who oppose voluntary slavery as being inconsistent with their shared principles. Block seeks to make “a tiny adjustment” which “strengthens libertarianism by making it more internally consistent.” He argues that his position shows “that contract, predicated on private property [can] reach to the furthest realms of human interaction, even to voluntary slave contracts.”