Monday, October 12, 2009

Walter Block on Blackmailing David Letterman

The New Yorker contacted the uberexpert on blackmail, the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Chair in Economics and Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans, Walter Block.

Here's what Block told The New Yorker:
A final call went out to Walter Block, the libertarian economist. Block believes that blackmail, like smoking, is “yucky” but should be legal. “He only threatened to be a gossip—maybe a screenwriter,” he said of Halderman. “Screenwriting and gossiping are legal. If it’s legal to do it, it should be legal to threaten to do it.” Of Halderman’s defense team, he said, “If the purpose is to promote justice, they should argue that it’s an unjust law, and he should get off free.” Of his fellow ethics experts, he said, “They wouldn’t know just law if it bit them in the rear end.”
So has Block done any work on the topic? Has he explored different views?

Glad you asked.

Here's a list of his writings on blackmail:

Block, Walter. 2009. “Reply to Matt Mortellaro on “Block’s Paradox”: causation, responsibility, libertarian law, entrapment, threats and blackmail,” Libertarian Papers; Here.

Block, Walter, Stephan Kinsella and Roy Whitehead. 2006. “The duty to defend advertising injuries caused by junk faxes: an analysis of privacy, spam, detection and blackmail.” Whittier Law Review, Vol., 27, No. 4, pp. 925-949

Block, Walter. 2005. “Liberdade de Experssao, Discurso, Libelo, Difamacao, Chantagem, Incitamento.” Cultura Do Trabalho, vol. 9; ed., Lars Knorr. Porto Alegre, Brasil: Instituto de Estudos Empresariais

Block, Walter. 2002-2003. “Berman on Blackmail: Taking Motives Fervently,” Florida State University Business Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 57-114; Here.

Block, Walter. 2002. “Blackmail,” in Levenson, David, ed., Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, 2002, pp. 118-120.

Block, Walter. 2001. “The Logic of the Argument in Behalf of Legalizing Blackmail,” Bracton Law Journal, Vol. 33, pp. 56-80;

Block, Walter and Gary Anderson. 2001. “Blackmail, Extortion and Exchange,” New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 3-4, pp. 541-561;

Block, Walter. 2001. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Blackmail,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter, pp. 55-88;

Block, Walter. 2000. “Blackmail is Private Justice,” University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 11-37

Block, Walter. 2000. “Reply to Wexler: Libertarianism, Blackmail and Decency,” University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 49-53;

Block, Walter. 2000. “Threats, Blackmail, Extortion and Robbery And Other Bad Things,” University of Tulsa Law Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, Winter, pp. 333-351;

Block, Walter. Stephan Kinsella and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. 2000. “The Second Paradox of Blackmail,” Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 3, July, pp. 593-622;; Here.

Block, Walter. 2000. “The Legalization of Blackmail: A Reply to Professor Gordon,” Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 1182 1223; Here.

Block, Walter. 1999. “Blackmailing for Mutual Good: A Reply to Russell Hardin,” Vermont Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 1, Fall, pp. 121-141; Here.

Block, Walter. 1999. “The Crime of Blackmail: A Libertarian Critique,” Criminal Justice Ethics, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer/Fall, pp. 3-10;

Block, Walter. 1999. “Replies to Levin and Kipnis on Blackmail,” Criminal Justice Ethics, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer/Fall, pp. 23-28;;

Block, Walter. 1999. “Blackmail and Economic Analysis: Reply to Ginsburg and Shechtman,” Thomas Jefferson Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, October, pp. 165-192

Block, Walter and Robert W. McGee. 1999. “Blackmail as a Victimless Crime,” Bracton Law Journal, Vol. 31, pp. 24-48; Here.

Block, Walter and Robert W. McGee. 1999. “Blackmail from A to Z: A Reply to Joseph Isenbergh’s ‘Blackmail from A to C,’” Mercer Law Review, Vol. 50, No. 2, winter, pp. 569-601;

Block, Walter and Christopher E. Kent. 1999. “Blackmail,” Magill’s Legal Guide, Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, p. 109.

Block, Walter. 1998. “A Libertarian Theory of Blackmail: Reply to Leo Katz’s ‘Blackmail and Other Forms of Arm-Twisting,’” Irish Jurist, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 280-310;

Block, Walter. 1997. “The Case for De-Criminalizing Blackmail: A Reply to Lindgren and Campbell,” Western State University Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, spring, pp. 225-246;

Block, Walter. 1986. “Trading Money for Silence,” University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring, pp. 57-73; reprinted as Block, Walter. 1987. “Trading Money for Silence?” Economic Imperialism: The Economic Approach Applied Outside the Traditional Areas of Economics, Peter Bernholz and Gerard Radnitzky, eds., New York: Paragon House, pp. 157-218; Here.

Block, Walter and David Gordon. 1985. “Blackmail, Extortion and Free Speech: A Reply to Posner, Epstein, Nozick and Lindgren,” Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, November, pp. 37-54; Here.

Block, Walter. 1973. “The Blackmailer as Hero: A Reply.” The Libertarian Forum. March, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 3-4;

Block, Walter. 1972. “The Blackmailer as Hero.” The Libertarian Forum. December, Vol. 4, No. 10, pp. 3-4;">Here.

I'm sure Prof. Block has touched upon it somewhere, but blackmail acts as a brake on bad behavior. If blackmail is legal, the person who is considering conducting activity that would subject him to blackmail, would have to consider the possibility that he could be blackmailed. Thus, blackmail tends to promote a more proper society--of course, there will be others that will choose to fight a particular norm of society, blackmail be damned--but this is, say, more likely to be some closet gay person versus, say, a child molester. Blackmail has its strongest influence in the deep bowels of behavior outside the norm. If Letterman was banging eleven year olds, he would have paid up.



  1. Maybe teaching economics is merely a front for Prof Block's dark side career!

  2. Prof. Block has done some truly pioneering work on the ethics of economic decisions. Much more revealing and useful than Elinor Ostrom's scribblings.

    Thanks to Robert Wenzel for highlighting some of his work.