Kinsella on Liberty Podcast: Episode 004.
My longtime friend Walter Block was recently in town and stayed over at my house one night. While we visited had several discussions on libertarian theory, as we usually do when we see each other. He agreed to let me record a discussion on one of the few issues we do not completely agree on: voluntary slavery; we recorded this last night. Walter believes voluntary slavery contracts ought to be enforceable in a private law society, and in this I believe he is in the minority of libertarians (with Nozick, say). We touched on a variety of issues, including debtor’s prison, how acquisition of body-rights differs from Lockean homesteading, and the like.
Some of my writing relevant to this topic and our discussion include:
- A Libertarian Theory of Contract: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability, Journal of Libertarian Studies 17, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 11-37
- Inalienability and Punishment: A Reply to George Smith, Winter 1998-99, Journal of Libertarian Studies.
- How We Come To Own Ourselves, Mises Daily (Sep. 7, 2006) (Mises.org blog discussion; audio version)
- Causation and Aggression (co-authored with Patrick Tinsley), The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, vol. 7, no. 4 (winter 2004): 97-112
Walter’s articles on this topic include:
- Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Gordon, Smith, Kinsella and Epstein, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring 2003, pp. 39-85
- “Alienability: Reply to Kuflik,” Humanomics. Vol. 23, No. 3, 2007, pp. 117-136
- “Are Alienability and the Apriori of Argument Logically Incompatible?” Dialogue, Vol. 1, No. 1. 2004.
- Alienability, Inalienability, Paternalism and the Law: Reply to Kronman American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer 2001, pp. 351-371
- Market Inalienability Once Again: Reply to Radin Thomas Jefferson Law Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 1999, pp. 37-88
- Alienability, Inalienability, Paternalism and the Law: Reply to Kronman
Update: see this Facebook post:
- Stephan Kinsella: I agree with David Gordon. I disagree with pro-voluntary slavery libertarians, like Walter Block (Thomas L. Knapp is another, though he pettifogs on the use of the term “voluntary slavery”).
- Jeremiah Dyke: I too think it’s insane not to have the ability to contract any percentage of your labor for any duration of time. [Sarcasm]
- Stephan Kinsella: This is not an argument. Abilities don’t come from opinions. Let’s be clear: to justify voluntary slavery means you have to justify the use of force by a would-be “master” against a would-be “slave”, if the slave tries to run away or changes his mind or disobeys an order. The libertarian thinks use of violence against another person’s body is unjustified aggression, unless it is (a) consented to, or (b) in response to aggression.
- But the slave has not committed aggression, so (b) is not a possible justification. Some alienabilists disingenuously argue that it IS “aggression” since the master owns the slave’s body, so it’s trespass (aggression) for the slave to use the master’s property (the slave’s body) in ways the owner (master) does not consent to. This argument is disingenuous because it is question-begging; it presupposes the legitimacy of body-alienability, in order to prove it. So this does not fly. I will say that I get very tired of people who engage in question-begging arguments. They do this all the time in IP — where they label an act of copying “stealing” in order to show that what was “stolen” must have been ownable property. Horrible reasoning. I hope you don’t engage in this kind of dishonest trick.
- As for (a); clearly the slave who tries to run away does NOT consent to the force the master wants to apply to him. The only way the alienabilist can get around this is to say that the PREVIOUS consent the slave gave (say, a week before) is still somehow applicable, i.e. that the slave cannot change his mind. Why not? because … well … because … well … because the slavery contract was binding! So we see, yet again, the sneaky and dishonest resort to question-begging; slavery contracts are binding because they are binding. Neat trick, that!
- The reason people can change their minds is that it does not commit aggression. And the reason a previous statement of intent is relevant is simply that it provides evidence of what the current consent is. It’s a standing order, but one that can be overridden with better, more recent, evidence. If a girl tells her boyfriend he may kiss her now, and any time he feels like it in the future, then when tomorrow comes he is reasonable in assuming that she is still actually consenting NOW to another kiss, even if she says nothing, because she set up that presumption earlier. Her previous statement was not a binding contract, but just a way of establishing a standing presumption about what her ongoing consent IS. But if he goes to kiss her and she says NO, then we know that the previous statement about what her future consent WOULD be, was a bad prediction and has been undermined by the better, present/current evidence she is giving.
- It is no different in all the voluntary slavery situations.