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March 2013

Free Markets Series E6: Liberty and Law

People everywhere value their freedom, but without any rules at all, conflict would be impossible to avoid or resolve. As eminent libertarian legal scholar Richard A. Epstein explains in this enlightening interview, personal liberty should be limited primarily by one principle: that no one can use force or fraud against others.

The underlying justification for strong property rights and freedom of contract, according to Epstein, is that these lead to the greatest overall good. “When people enter into voluntary exchanges, both of them make themselves better off, so the presumption is they should be allowed to do what they please.” However, rules against using force are not self-enforcing, which is why we need government, however limited, and the taxation necessary to pay for that government.

We also need some regulations to govern certain kinds of transactions that are so complicated that markets do a poor job of dealing with them. But as Richard Epstein points out, the problem is that regulations are often used to help the connected or vocal few at the expense of the many. “The whole theory of good government is to develop a theory of regulation which allows those regulations which essentially produce across the board improvements, and to ban those which are strictly partisan.”

Viewers will also learn about Epstein’s geometric theory of private and public property; his view on whether we need to enforce benevolence; and his important distinction between moral and legal obligations. He concludes with some words of advice for the next American president, from whichever party, on the issues of jobs, bailouts, debt and taxes.