Monday, June 10, 2013

Walter Block on Libel and a Ticked Off Multi-Billionaire

Dear Bob: 
Boy oh boy, I'd sure be ticked off if someone falsely claimed I had $20 billion, when my actual net worth was $29.6 billion. I'd be highly insulted and indignant. I'd sue their rear ends off.  
On a more serious note, yes, the libertarian position, at least insofar as I understand it, maintains that libel laws are invalid. Libel and slander attacks a person's reputation, but, paradoxically, he does not own his own reputation, as it consists, solely, of the thoughts of other people, and he cannot own their thoughts. 
Best regards,
Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business
Loyola University New Orleans


  1. I don't agree with Prof. Block on this one. Libel (or slander) can cause financial harm and should be against the law.

    But the issue isn't whether someone can "own their reputation." Rather it has to do with whether information meant to inform action meets a reasonable standard of accuracy. That comes under fraud and I do believe WB opposes fraud.

    If a competitor of a consultant harms his reputation, financial injury has possibly been caused to him through the act of committing fraud (slander or libel).

    The billionaire should have a difficult time in court though because he'd have to prove there was financial harm and how much. And if libel/slander were clearly understood this way, Forbes would likely have qualified their story with a disclaimer like "in our opinion" or "by our estimation." Maybe they did.

    Also, there should be a legal distinction made between deliberate, accidental and opinion. If someone says, "In my opinion, that guy is a sleaze bag" that can't be considered fraud. An unintentional false claim about someone should be treated a civil matter only while deliberate false information should be treated as criminal.

    1. you don't know much about the English libel laws. The whole system was created so the rich and powerful could bankrupt any sort of reporter, because the plaintiff doesn't have to prove anything, the onus is on the defendant to prove otherwise.