Sep

1

The next Junto speaker will be Richard Epstein on the topic of "simple rules for a complex society".

Please join us, Thursday, September 1st, at The Mechanics Institute at 20 West 44th Street.

The meeting starts at 7 pm and the speaker speaks at 8 pm. There will be feedback. 

All are welcome.

Victor Niederhoffer commented on the night: 

Richard Epstein a genius. Totally great. v

Eric Dennis writes:

It was an impressive performance, and characteristic of him from what I've seen.

While I agree that interpersonal value measurement is technically not well-defined, I think the larger problem for Richard Epstein's case is the historically demonstrated inability to constrain state power by stretchable, aggregate welfare-based rules. There is little doubt that if an army of Richard Epstein clones were to adjudicate, e.g., eminent domain proposals, they could find some cases where "takings" would increase aggregate welfare, however imprecisely defined. The problem is that we don't have an army of Richard Epsteins. We have bureaucrats with no appreciation for the Hayekian knowledge problem, bureaucrats who are incented to maximize votes and campaign contributions by means of talking about economic efficiency rather than by means of achieving it.

The innovation of defining laws by reference to rights rather than to notions of aggregate welfare is that the former provides a clear limit on state power comprehensible even to the simpleton. Once the principle of private property has been subordinated to some kind of collective goal, we rely on the ability of the simpleton to decode polticians' vague arguments about whose property it will be necessary to sacrifice in the name of that goal. We might as well just enact the New Deal at the start.

If we can get 95% of the way to some hypothetical Epsteinian efficiency by means of a system of rights-based law, why try to eek out the residual 5% by striking at the heart of that system's robustness? If there is a detailed historical case for why it's not actually just a 95/5 split, I'd like to hear it; otherwise, I think his own acknowledged presumption for non-coercion ought to be applied to at the level of legal philosophy rather than simply at the level of individual "takings" cases.

Gene Epstein comments:

Well put. I agree with what you just wrote, Eric–especially since you agree that the term "general welfare" is "imprecisely defined." You're certainly right that Ultimate Ep's world, if people like him were administering things, would be vastly superior to the one we live in.

However, as libertarians–or even as classical liberals–our default position is presumably to respect property rights, to recognize that all value is subjectve–hence recognizing that terms like "just compensation" also have no precise definition–and also to recognize that refusal to sell, or refusal to sell at the "just" price being offered–is a necesssary part of property rights.

On the other side, Ultimate Ep seems to be arguing that, if we respect these rights, roads will be built, but not quite enough roads to suit him. Even if he's right–and if you appreciate what entrepreneurs can do, it's debatable–private ownership of roads would bring other benefits, especially the more efficient allocation of this scarce commodity.

But Ultimate Ep is always a treat. And thanks again, Vic, for hosting the event. 


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