Regarding paying library fines, Walter Block replies:
…if you don’t pay a private library fine, you’re a criminal. If you don’t pay a fine from a public library (which shouldn’t exist in the first place) you are a heroic Ragnar Danneskjold.
Maybe, maybe not.
Ragnar is a bad example; not at all applicable in the manner which Walter suggests. I will come to why after Walter swings and misses two more times. First, a follow-up from the questioner, MW:
Walter, You wiffed that one. If one considers the “library card” to be an agreement / contract between the borrower and the library, then one is obligated to honor the terms. It does not matter if said library is government owned or privately owned. There is an agreement in place with a penalty clause for late return of borrowed materials. The only morality involved is the honoring of the agreement. If you absolutely do not like (or hate) the library owner, then do not patronize said library. Regards, MW
The questioner understands libertarian theory better than does Walter in this case. First, Walter’s reply:
…we’ll have to agree to disagree. In my view, there are no valid contracts with robber gangs. It is entirely legitimate to sign a contract with one of them, and not honor it. You see governments as legitimate institutions.
There is so much gray area on this topic that it is unfortunate that Walter stooped to that last sentence. My point is not that government is a legitimate institution, but that the puritanical contradiction is in the very first step – agreeing to take a library card (even walking on the premises). In other words, Walter assumes much – and incorrectly – by making this accusation.
In any case, this can be Walter’s view, but this doesn’t mean it is the only possible libertarian interpretation or even that it is well-grounded in libertarian theory.
Walter goes on to cite a passage from Rothbard – a passage that does not inform regarding the question.
So, what about Ragnar? He recovered stolen property from those with whom he had no previous agreement. Ragnar did not first agree to provide security for the government ship before he “recovered” the property from the ship. Now, Walter might say this is OK; but it is a different scenario than the one presented via the library card. As the questioner points out, the book borrower agreed to certain terms before borrowing the book. There is a contract (and more on contracting with the government momentarily).
Further, Ragnar returned the retrieved stolen goods to the original owners – the individual taxpayers, proven via tax returns. Walter proposes no such thing. Instead, Walter proposes further damaging the property that – while not “owned” by the public library – is certainly owned by someone.
Is there something libertarian in this?
As to “It is entirely legitimate to sign a contract with one of them, and not honor it.” Why? On what basis? I suggest it is a dangerous game for libertarians to suggest that voluntarily agreed-upon relationships are not valid. We cannot pick and choose which voluntary agreements are to be honored…or not. (While not directly on point, I have addressed this issue here.)
Let’s take this a step further. What the government possesses is stolen goods – on this, we agree. This would include books at the public library. Once stolen, they remain stolen until returned to the rightful owner. In other words, the borrower is borrowing stolen books.
Let’s play this out with Walter’s salary – earned at a public, taxpayer-supported, university. Walter is certainly in receipt of stolen goods. I guess it is OK for me to take Walter’s wallet next time I see him, move into his house, take his car for a spin around…oh, Texas. I might even hack into his financial accounts and initiate a transfer or two – after all, I paid the taxes to support his salary.
How about Walter’s students walking into his office and taking the books from the shelves, his computer from his desk, all materials from the drawers? Why not? What about burning down his place of employment? After all, the public-university does not “own” the buildings.
Walter might argue – and this time properly cite Rothbard (as I recall) – that a position such as teaching at a university is OK even if government funded, because it is both a) a profession that would surely exist in a free market and b) the government has created a virtual monopoly for those who choose to teach (I am not going to look for the cite). He might then argue that because of this, the buildings should not be damaged either.
The same applies to a public library. Precisely the same.
Of course, the question touches on some gray areas, as does Walter’s work as a professor in a publicly-funded university. There is only one completely principled answer, and MW has pointed it out:
If you absolutely do not like (or hate) the library owner, then do not patronize said library.
After all, merely checking out a book places the borrower in receipt of stolen goods – stolen from the taxpayer who paid for it. At which step of the process does “violation” occur?
Therefore, the same can be said of Walter in his chosen profession. There is only one perfectly principled answer: don’t teach at a publicly-funded university.
Walter, apply your interpretation of libertarian theory: quit your job.