Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective: Employing the Unemployable

By Baird, Charles W. | Freeman, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective: Employing the Unemployable


Baird, Charles W., Freeman


Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective: Employing the Unemployable by Walter Block World Scientific Publishing * 2008 * 420 pages * $58.00 hardcover; $30 paperback

Notwithstanding its title, this is not a textbook on labor economics. Rather, as the author stipulates in the introduction, it is "an ideological book." It is a col- lection of papers written, some- times with coauthors, by Block during the 1990s and 2000s on various labor-related topics. Of the 29 chapters, all but three were first published elsewhere (some as blog posts).

Block's free-market perspective is libertarianism. Throughout, he searches for "the proper libertarian answer" to several labor-related questions. He begins, as did his mentor Murray Rothbard, with the two foundations of libertarian thought: The nonaggression principle and the law of free association. Taken together, Block writes, they imply, "In the free and prosperous society everyone may act precisely as he pleases, provided, only, that he does not initiate violence against non-aggressors." Following Rothbard, Block's theory of justice in original acquisition of property is the Lockean homestead principle, without Locke's famous proviso, and with Nozick's principle of justice in transfer of property rights based on voluntary exchange.

I think the book best serves as a handbook for teachers and students on how to apply libertarian thought to several labor questions. Unfortunately, the book has no index so it is rather difficult to find Block's treatment of any specific issue. For example, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) imposes mandatory good-faith bargaining, exclusive representation, and "union security" on private-sector collective bargaining. Each of these egregiously violates the law of free association. Block briefly considers these topics, but it is impossible to pick up the book and quickly find his statements about them. His main free-association argument against NLRA-style unionism focuses on the use of picket lines to stop "scabs" and others wiUing to engage in voluntary exchange with strike targets. His argument is briUiant, but I wish he had appUed it to those other issues as weU. On strikes, Block draws out the important distinction between NLRA-style strikes and strikes that can be justified as applications of the principles of voluntary exchange. Chapter 8 (a blog post) presents a short but effective argument in favor of "yeUow dog" (union-free) contracts among consenting adults. …

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