May 05, 2004

Block, Epstein will duel over domain

Walter Block and Richard Epstein will have a debate on eminent domain at the University of Chicago Law School, May 10, at 12:13 p.m.

The event is the result of the 'entrepreneurial' efforts of J.H. Huebert:

The debate revolves around the question: Should government have a right to take anyone’s property for less that what the owner would freely and voluntarily agree to accept as payment? Or, more formally: Is the state’s power of eminent domain necessary in a free society?

Chicago Law School professor Richard Epstein thinks so, and Loyola of New Orleans economics professor Walter Block vehemently disagrees.

As a result of their overwhelming differences, Block is flying into Chicago to go head to head with Epstein in a contest of libertarian ideas.

Epstein is so sure of his views on a variety of topics, including eminent domain, that he has openly promised to debate "anyone, anywhere, anytime, about anythin...provided that I disagree with them," he said.


To many of his students in the Law School and most mainstream academics, Richard Epstein is the most extreme libertarian they know. He frequently argues, in his voluminous output in both books and law reviews, against government "evils" like socialized medicine, and even against anti-discrimination laws.

But, unlike Block, Epstein did not begin his post-graduate academic career as a libertarian ideologue. Instead, he began with an inclination toward finding simple rules for a complex world - the basis for a book he would later write. And it just so happened, he found, that many of the best "simple rules" are libertarian rules of private property and freedom of contract. But this was not without exception - and one exception that he famously made in his highly influential book, Takings, is for the power of eminent domain, which allows the government to forcibly take property for such ostensible "public goods" as roads, as long as it pays "just compensation."


Throughout his career, Block has directed some of his strongest criticism in numerous economics journals and law reviews at the University of Chicago’s supposedly "free market" thinkers, including Ronald Coase, Richard Posner, Epstein, and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. Block spares no one when he finds that they hold views that are less than what pure libertarianism or the rigorously logical Austrian school of economics demands.