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Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law Hardcover – December 15, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0674061842 ISBN-10: 0674061845

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (December 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674061845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674061842
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,232,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


This new book by the NYU law school professor and senior Hoover fellow is yet another in a long stream of magnificent defenses of the free market, in which the problem of how best to reduce and streamline public administration is brilliantly addressed. (Walter Block Barron's 2012-02-04)

Design for Liberty is a masterly analysis of the problem of our modern administrative state and a highly practical manual for putting the law back on the right track...Epstein's discussion of eminent domain is so excellent, accessible, and relevant, that it should be required reading for every local and state political official... Epstein points to the 'fourth wave' of the administrative state--the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and the Affordable Care Act (ACA)--to illustrate the bureaucracy's ongoing expansion. His analysis of the likely consequences of these laws is alone worth the price of the book. (Joseph Postell Claremont Review of Books 2013-01-01)

Design for Liberty might be the most important book of 2011, possibly of this decade. It clarifies the motivation of both the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements. Epstein has written one of those books that appear rarely and demands to be read. (Mark Lardas Galveston Daily News 2012-01-01)

Epstein describes an overregulated state and argues that administrators have too much discretion--a situation that ultimately harms individuals. This short but dense book describes how the rule of law can create a more ideal system with limited, neutral public administration combined with robust private-property rights. Legal scholars and political philosophers will appreciate Epstein's well-argued case for smaller government. (Rachel Bridgewater Library Journal 2012-01-15)

From the Back Cover

Without question, the most profound domestic change in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century through the present time has been the vast expansion of government under the influence of the progressive worldview that received its highest expression in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Progressive thought was no small perturbation from the views of government that had previously defined the American legal tradition. Indeed, the progressive movement defined itself in opposition to once-dominant classical liberal theories of government that stressed the dominance of private property, individual liberty, and limited government. (Excerpt from book's Introduction.)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. P. Korn on April 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Law Professor Epstein's "Design for Liberty" because of keen interest in liberty and to better understand its steady erosion in recent years.

I am not exaggerating much to say you need 1600 on your SATs to get through Epstein's complex writing style. He uses big words when simpler words would do as well.

Nevertheless, I take away a few gems:

1. Redistribution as currently espoused should be "last resort." Make sure the productive sector is in good shape and vibrant before piling on new redistribution benefits. A healthy economy also produces less need.

2. "It is much easier to accomplish modest redistribution off a large wealth base than to engage in extensive redistribution off a small (and shrinking) wealth base."

3. Mutual and voluntary private exchanges should be preferred in almost every instance over public coercion (think National Labor Relations Board interfering in private labor decision, and making competitive labor markets non-competitive and even monopolistic)

4. Extremely complex new legislation (ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, Clean Air Act, etc.) leaves enormous latitude with bureaucrats to decipher the legislation and its intent. This kind of legislation is harmful in the end because of predictable unintended consequences as implemented by unelected we are now seeing.

On personal note, heard Professor Epstein on the John Batchelor radio show in April, and he talks like he writes. Fascinating guest.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By William E. McClane on December 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book and a must read for business executives to understand why other country economies grow, stay the same or decline based on property rights, public administration and rule of law. Professor Epstein is a superb writer and provides a great perspective.
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Format: Hardcover
In this relatively brief, ambitious book, the author (a law professor) contends that the expansion of government since the New Deal has culminated in a crisis of excessive regulation, arbitrary government discretion, and politicized public administration that are wrecking havoc with private property, personal liberty, and the rule of law. In support of this contention, the author undertakes an interdisciplinary odyssey (that cites and refers to law, economics, politics, and history) to: (1) discuss the nature of private property rights, the rule of law, and public administration; (2) explain how private property rights, the rule of law, and public administration interact and affect each other; (3) consider how private property rights, the rule of law, and public administration are understood differently under classical liberalism and American Progressivism; and (4) explore how the modern administrative state has led to serious distortions and inefficiencies in the economy, government operations and the legal system, and the personal lives of people. The author concludes that traditional, classical liberal notions of the rule of law and private property rights need to be restored in order to achieve a reasonable balance between private choices and public administration in a system of limited government that respects individual liberty.

The book addresses important ideas and topics that are crucial to any discussion of: (1) what is the proper scope and reach of government in a free society; (2) how to reasonably balance personal liberty with societal needs; and (3) the risk that personal and social actions undertaken with good intentions could have unintended adverse consequences that undercut and negate those good intentions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Leon Dixon on June 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Epstein lectured at Butler University recently giving a talk without notes, talking fast, respecting his audience perhaps a bit too much. What I could follow of his talk was interesting but we do not often have the opportunity to listen to a man who speaks in paragraphs, whose thoughts are ordered, and who as a Libertarian seems to have a really good grasp of the law as it was understood by the Founders. So, I wound up purchasing two books by Mr. Epstein because of my lack of being able to follow his lecture-which sounded right-but for which I was not prepared. When one reads a work by a professor of law it can be unsatisfying if what is propounded does not fit one's own personal experiences-they are not grounded in actual legal experience for the most part but go into teaching soon after getting their LLB. Somehow, Epstein has acquired a grasp of law that is different as he ties together vast swaths of what we would consider subjects but he considers as having historical unity.
Our Founders were ideologues, too. We are, after all, the American Experiment. A Republic it was said, "If you can keep it". He directs our attention to the ideas with which our Founders were familiar and demonstrates where we have allowed mere judges to deviate and substitute their lesser ideas. If you read enough judicial opinion it does not take long to recognize the glaring lack of first rate talent and how the plodding of lawyers then leads the herd over the buffalo jump. A single reading of Epstein is insufficient, in my view, to love his work so I will have to read it again before too long-in the interim reading other works-before I could love the book. It might be that his previous books would prove of value as introductory to the conclusions he reaches here. Liberty Fund will be coming out, soon, with a book on Suarez and we might then find the thinker who influenced the original libertarians.
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