Defending the Undefendable

Originally Reviewed on 4/18/2015 – revised 3/25/2016

Defending the Undefendable by Walter BlockDefendUndefendable

This is exactly the kind of book that spurs real thought in the reader by challenging the most rudimentary of assumptions about behavior. This is a classic of Libertarian thought because its challenge to economic thinking is from the point of view of some of the “Worst Case Scenarios” in the market. These are the examples that make right-leaning Libertarians cringe and Republicans lose their faith in the market.

The difficulty is that Block deliberately takes moral cases and applies economics to them, not to determine the moral course of action, but to discern the economic incentives and disincentives that really exist. Thus his discussions of Prostitution, Blackmail, Ticket Scalper, The Profiteer and the Litterer are just a few of the examples where the economics of the case are hard to reconcile with common morality, yet in the context of just the economic question, they are more straightforward would be expected.

Some of the moral positions are not ones that Block would personally espouse and he even says in the introduction: “This means only that these activities should not be punished by jail sentences or other forms of violence. It decidedly does not mean that these activities are moral, proper or good.”

Many of these are relevant to various campaigns that have been pushed in recent years, but particularly prescient is his case for the “Gypsy Cab Driver.” Modern readers will recognize the case for an Uber or Lyft-like service that picks up fares that regular taxis would ignore, though at a premium. So, if you are prepared to think about these and many other issues from a completely different perspective, Dr. Block’s book will be of special interest to you.