Epstein's New Book Discusses the Components of a Viable Legal System

Since the 1989 publication of his foundational Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, Richard A. Epstein has been acclaimed as one of our most innovative and provocative thinkers about the interactions between private property and government.

His new book, Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law (Harvard University Press 2011), confirms that status. In it, Epstein argues that any viable legal system must have three elements: private property, public administration, and the rule of law. Epstein, the James Parker Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Law and Senior Lecturer at the Law School, then dissects the interactions between those three elements, and highlights the risks of affording too much power to the public administration leg of the tripod.

This danger was vividly illustrated, Epstein writes, by the 2010 passage of legislation on healthcare and on financial reform, which falls in the progressive tradition of central planning that was so famously excoriated in Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Like those books, Design for Liberty seeks to examine not only the institutions that structure contemporary life, but also the intellectual framework used to justify those institutions.

Epstein carefully limns the conflicts between the expansion of the administrative state and the rule of law, and—offering an alternative to our current straits—argues for a return to classical liberal views on property and contract. The fusion of strong property rights with a system of sound, limited public administration, where discretion is limited, represents an ideal that Design for Liberty charts a route toward.

Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law will be available for sale beginning November 15.