Toward a Libertarian Society by Walter Block

Summary and takeaways from the book.

This book is about Libertarianism - a political philosophy.

The 3 essential elements of a political philosophy are "foreign policy, economic policy, and policy concerning personal liberties".

"this book consist of a quintessentially libertarian answer to these challenges".

ISBN: 978-1-61016-595-2
Published: 2014
Pages: 220
Available on: Download from Mises Institute

Prof. Walter Block is Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute. He has written 700 refereed articles in professional journals, three dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and numerous others). He appears regularly on television and radio shows.

This book is about Libertarianism - a political philosophy.

Libertarianism is not Liberalism. They are different.

The 3 essential elements of a political philosophy are "foreign policy, economic policy, and policy concerning personal liberties".

"this book consist of a quintessentially libertarian answer to these challenges".

Prof. Block lists the two core elements of "libertarianism: the non-aggression principle and private property rights based upon homesteading". He uses them to address "foreign policy, economic policy, and policy concerning personal liberties" when explaining the political philosophy of libertarianism.

"I hope this book causes you to think, and question how society can function successfully without a monolithic state riding roughshod over us. It would give me great pleasure if this helped in some small way to promote our beloved philosophy, libertarianism".

Libertarian foreign policy

"the non-aggression principle would imply a policy of strict non-interventionism".

This is not isolationism. USA will trade with the world but not have bases all over the world to get favorable trade deals, best price for their goods, and lowest price for raw materials.
"Citizens of our country should be free to visit, trade with, buy from, sell to, invest in, and allow investments from, people from all corners of the globe".

"What would a proper foreign policy require? Something of the sort of a very powerful Coast Guard, ready to kick the butt of anyone who would dare attack us". The focus will be on defense, not offense.

"MYOB, mind your own business, is a far better policy than anything employed by the U.S. for most of its history. Emulating the foreign policy of Switzerland might be a good beginning".

War represents "worst interventions into the economy" as "War has it all: propaganda, censorship, spying, crony contracts, money printing, skyrocketing spending, debt creation, central planning, hubris — everything we associate with the worst interventions into the economy".

Foreign policy is important as there is "connection between an imperial policy abroad and abuses and outrages at home".

"But unless and until they[libertarians] favor a strictly non-interventionist foreign policy, one limited to self-defense, they cannot be considered libertarians".
A pro-trade, non-first-aggression, non-pre-emptive strike, defensive foreign policy is core to Libertarianism political philosophy.

Libertarian economic policy

All economic transactions in a Libertarian system involve voluntary agreement or contracts between two parties.

The state provides minimal services like army, police, courts, making laws.

Almost everything else is provided by private sector: education, roads, healthcare, pensions, social security, airports, dams, flood defenses, irrigation canals.

If there is economic value to certain group of people, they can pool together and find ways to get it done for their benefit.

If farmers need an irrigation canal, they can pool and pay for it if it is economically viable. Why should the government take money as taxes from city dwellers against their wishes, and use it to fund an irrigation canal? People generally want someone else to pay for things they need.

Special interest groups(farmers, corporations, Military-Industrial-Complex) influence the decision makers to pass policies that benefit them at great cost to everyone else.

Henry Hazlitt writes in his book 'Economics in One Lesson': "When the government makes loans or subsidies to business, what it does is to tax successful private business in order to support unsuccessful private business".

It leads to "concentrated benefits and diffused costs".

This issue of "concentrated benefits and diffused costs" is what Libertarian economic policy tries to avoid.

The book has a whole chapter dedicated to this: "Want To Cure Poverty? Get the Government Out of the Market".

"Why do markets work to alleviate poverty and governments fail?

The main reason is the profit and loss system, the automatic feedback loop mechanism of free enterprise. If an entrepreneur does a bad job, people avoid his firm. If he does not mend the error of his ways, bankruptcy is the inevitable and usually swift result.

In sharp contrast, if a politician makes mistakes in satisfying a constituency, he can stay in office for up to four years; a bureaucrat, practically forever.

The situation regarding pizza, pens, and pickles is pretty satisfactory; those who could not provide these goods at a competitive quality and price went broke. But what of the post office and the motor vehicle bureau? Poor service for decades, and nothing we consumers can do about it
"It is no exaggeration to say that the most important distinction in all of libertarian theory is that between coercion and non-coercion.

Obliterate this divergence and there is nothing left to libertarianism at all.

This is so important, it bears repeating: libertarianism consists of nothing more than the implications of this one single solitary distinction

There can be no implied agreements backed by threat of monopoly of violence by the state.

Public sector signs up citizens involuntarily and then coerces them to pay up. The author compares this to being mugged at knifepoint on the street.

Welfare state

"But do governments not give money to the poor in the form of welfare? Doesn’t that help the poor?

First, only the crumbs go to the poor. The rich, after all, run the government. It would take quite a bit more benevolence than they have for them to orchestrate things against their own interests

"And what is the effect of welfare on the family? To ask this is to answer it. As Charles Murray has shown in his insightful book Losing Ground, the social worker makes a financial offer to the pregnant girl that the father of her baby cannot even come close to matching. But they do so on the condition that this young man be out of the picture. A recipe for family disaster if ever there was one".
Welfare state destroys families by making it financially lucrative to have broken families and get more aid.

"Slavery was not able to ruin the black family (poverty is disproportionately a black problem), but insidious welfare had that very effect. The black family was just about as strong as the white in the years following the War of Northern Aggression, but fell apart after Johnson’s War on Poverty".

"The government is also a direct source of poverty. Its minimum wage and union legislation makes it difficult if not impossible for poor youth to get jobs. Its rent control makes cheap housing scarce. Its tariffs make all basic necessities more expensive, and its subsidies to [inefficient]business have the same effect".

"welfare bureaucracy, where continued disasters call forth greater and greater budgets".

Private charity

Libertarian philosophy is against public charity. It is against use of public funds collected by taxes to be distributed as charity by the government.

Libertarianism makes no comment on private charity. It is implicitly allowed. Private charity is people doing things with their money. People can do what they want with their money.

Private charity is more efficient than public charity. If private charity does not work, generally the donors stop funding it.

"In contrast, with public/government charity or welfare, 'welfare bureaucracy', where continued disasters call forth greater and greater budgets".

"Why, specifically, have private charities run rings around their public counterparts in terms of easing poverty?

This is because the former, not the latter, insist that the poor not remain passive, but rather undertake efforts in their own behalf. Often, they are called upon to personally or by letter thank the specific donors responsible for their upkeep, there being no “welfare rights” in this sector of the economy.

Who makes decisions

The market does.

If doing something provides value at a cost users are willing to pay, then it is done. If it is not economically viable in economic terms on its own, then it won’t be done.

This is the most efficient mechanism to decide.

The author gives examples of storm and hurricane levies in his hometown New Orleans which was devastated by hurricanes. The government makes ineffective hurricane defenses at great cost to taxpayer that don’t work. More money is spent. The cycle goes on. Economic justification is never considered.
The market should decide if it is worth doing it at all.

"Private enterprise alone should determine if the Big Easy is worth saving or not. Problems of 'transactions costs' will be far easier to overcome than challenges presented by an inept and economically irrational government".

Libertarianism and developing nations

"Thanks to their enjoyment of relative economic freedom for many years, the capitalist west can now afford a modicum of pernicious socialism.

In contrast, free enterprise being virtually unknown in the third world, socialist egalitarianism is the death knell of their economy

Less developed nations go downhill very fast when they adopt socialist egalitarianism systems.

Only solution for developing nations is Libertarianism.


Libertarianism is a political model, not a philosophy or guide to morality for exceptional circumstances. It is more concerned with day-to-day events like how/who to run essential services, education, banking, roads, healthcare etc.

"The criticisms of libertarian property rights theory base their views on the philosophy of emergencies. The non-aggression axiom is all well and good in ordinary circumstances, but when there are lifeboat situations, all bets are off. The problem, however, with violating libertarian law for special exigencies is that these occurrences are more commonplace than supposed".

People increasing look to the government to solve all their problems. People want a cradle to grave system from the government to take care of them. They want government to fund it from 'the rich and successful' or from foreigners or have the money appear magically out of thin air(money printing, quantitative easing).

People increasing look to the government to solve all their problems because majority is dysfunctional to solve it themselves.

People want something for nothing. Politicans step in to pander to their fallacies.


Politicians do not bring prosperity. They have vested interest in serving their rich sponsors, and themselves. They are also indoctrinated as Marxists/Socialists.

Politicians that advocate for free market do not get funding to promote themselves for election.

"in politics, vast fortunes are made not by attracting customers but by raising taxes and siphoning off the lion’s share of them. The wealth of the politician rises, and that of everyone else falls".

"Louisiana Governor Blanco is now holding hearings on the problem of poverty. Since she is a mainstream politician, she will likely arrive at the wrong answers for its cause and adopt fascistic solutions for its cure. Worse, this initiative will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more and thus exacerbate the very poverty she is supposedly fighting".

* * *

Libertarianism as a political model lets you be the best of you, without government stealing from the successful to give to the dysfunctional.

"We are not directly concerned with curing poverty, or homelessness. To be sure, these come about as a result of implementing our program, but they are not to be confused with it".
This is a key point. Libertarianism brings prosperity, which in turn fixes poverty, lack of freedom, and social problems.

This approach is more effective than directly trying to cure poverty and social problems with more government intervention, more taxes, welfare state, tariffs, trade wars, rent control, tenant rights etc.

"The foundation of libertarianism is the non-aggression axiom. This states that it is illicit to initiate or threaten invasive violence against a man or his legitimately owned property. Murray Rothbard characterized this as “plumb line” libertarianism: follow this one principle, and you will be able to infer the libertarian position on all issues, without exception".

"For the libertarian anarchist, government is always and ever an affront".

"There is little doubt that anything the state touches it will poison".

"government which governs least governs best".

"Given that greater wealth reduces man’s inhumanity to man, this is a course of action that should not be overlooked by you and your organization".

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