Sunday, October 21, 2012

Richard Epstein, The Means of Production and The Zebra Changes Stripes

“Today there is little general sentiment in the United States or abroad in favor of the collective ownership of the means of production that bore the brunt of Hayek’s withering criticism. Instead the newer pattern is to preach the virtue of markets in the abstract, and then to insists that government regulation of private enterprises is necessary to correct the legion of supposed specific market failures that arise in complex modern institutions.” (1)

“Rather, regulation takes certain elements from the owner’s bundle of rights and transfers them to the state, where they again fall prey to the same difficulties that arose when central planning was defended on a grand scale.” (2)

"Even the failure and disintegration of socialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has not led to a clear response to the next question: if government ownership of the means of production is so bad, why is government regulation of the private means of production so good?" (3)


“…..there is today (fortunately) very little support for the direct government ownership of the means of production. As a political theory today, the socialist remnant operates on a different level. At a personal level, it speaks to the alienation of the individual, stressing the need for caring and sharing and the politics of meaning. At a regulatory level, it seeks to identify specific sectors in which there is market failure and then to subject them to various forms of government regulation. It removes more and more activities from the private area by creating affirmative rights to housing, to education, to welfare, and to health care. The remnant of socialism works, as it were, on the installment plan, where it acts as a powerful counterpoint to the vision of the night-watchman state, chiefly concerned with the maintenance of public peace and order.” (4)



(1) Simple Rules for a Complex World, Richard Epstein, Harvard University Press, 1995, preface pages xii and xiii.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid, page 15.

(4) Ibid, page 23.


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