My Response to Jeffrey Tucker on COVID

My Response to Jeffrey Tucker on COVID
(Corona Borealis Studio/Shutterstock)
Walter Block


Jeff Tucker says this about me:

“We could also mention the tragic case of Walter Block, a famed anarchist and student of Murray Rothbard, who somehow got very confused in thinking that passing on a respiratory virus is a form of aggression that the state is right to punish. Such a position would of course mean that freedom could never exist. From his armchair, he never considered that the acquisition of natural immunity might just as easily be regarded as a positive externality to provide protection against illness. This is why many generations practiced deliberate exposure in the form of variolation. Indeed, I was personally exposed to chickenpox and grateful for it!”

He does so in an op-ed that blames all sorts of people for being wrong on COVID, including such libertarian luminaries as Tyler Cowen, Robert Higgs, and Deirdre McCloskey. It would appear that Jeff Tucker, and pretty much only Jeff Tucker, was correct in his analysis of COVID, and leading libertarians such as those three, and me, were all wet.

There’s more wrong than you can shake a stick at in this short passage. But before I get into all of that, let me thank him for including me in this august company. I’m happy to be linked with those three, and, also, for being called a “guru” even though, in his view, a mistaken one, who as a result has suffered a much justified “downfall.”

What, then, are the problems with this short statement of his?

First of all, why “tragic.” Hey, I didn’t, even in his estimation, come out in favor of communism, which killed millions of innocent people. Ok, ok, arguendo, I screwed up on libertarian theory. Surely, I wouldn’t be the first to do so. All of us “armchair” commentators make errors. None of them are “tragic” given we have so little power to determine public policy.

Second, and again I have to thank him for this, he calls me “famed.” But no, if anything, thanks to the New York Times, I am more infamous than famous (they falsely claimed I favored slavery; don’t ask).

Third, “passing on a … virus is [not] a form of aggression?” Tell that to the victims who will be sickened by such an activity, and perhaps even die from it. Take the case of Typhoid Mary. She was innocent of any crime; she lacked mens rea. She was not trying to infect anyone with this dread disease. But, it can’t be doubted, even by the meanest intelligence, that she most certainly was guilty of a “form of aggression.” Her act was akin to that of a person who while cleaning a gun accidentally shot someone to death; or a motorist who killed a pedestrian by accident. However, if that isn’t “aggression,” an uninvited border crossing, a rights violation,  then nothing fits that bill.

Tucker charges me with maintaining that “the state is right to punish” this sort of transgression. But he just got finished calling me an anarchist. As such, it would be a logical contradiction to claim that the state is right to do pretty much anything, except, of course, to disband. Am I guilty of this logical contradiction? No, he is. I never, ever said that “the state is right to punish.” I assume this author is referring to this essay of mine, “A libertarian analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic” in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

I search in vain for any statement to the effect that the state is in the right.

Fourth, Tucker avers that “freedom could never exist” if the state punished not a murderer, but someone who innocently killed random people. This is an untenable stance. No, it’s entirely justified to “punish” Typhoid Mary to the extent that she not be allowed to continue to infect people in the restaurant in which she worked. She shouldn’t of course be put in jail. But isolation in comfortable surroundings would appear to be the only sensible fate for her.

Fifth is the issue of the “positive externality.” Tucker spent many years employed by the Mises Institute, an Austrian economic think tank. Unhappily, this philosophy didn’t seem to take in him. Externalities, whether positive (education) or negative (pollution, infecting people with viruses) are a market failure not for Austrians, but for the mainstream school of economic thought. If there’s anything well established in the praxeological school, it’s that there are simply no market failures. Government failures? Yes, to be sure. But there aren’t any intrinsic to the free enterprise system.

Sixth, exposure to chicken pox, or to any other such disease, most certainly is an act of aggression, unless it’s welcomed. It’s akin to being pushed out of the path of an onrushing truck, and being saved from death, but at the welcome cost of a broken rib or two. But COVID is different than chicken pox. If  Tucker, when suffering from COVID, were purposefully to sneeze in someone’s face in order to inflict this disease upon him, he would certainly be guilty of something akin to assault and battery. He would be engaged in criminal behavior, which certainly constitutes “aggression.”

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Walter E. Block is the chair in economics at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute and the Hoover Institute.
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