Between Power and Liberty: Economics and the Law

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Between Power and Liberty: Economics and the Law edited by Richard M. Ebeling Hillsdale College Press 1998 . 169 pages $9.95 paperback

Between Power and Liberty: Economics and the Law, is the publication of the 1997 Ludwig von Mises lectures at Hillsdale College. The book's title comes from James Madison's description of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights: "every word . . . describes a question between power and liberty."

The essays in this book brilliantly make the case for liberty over power. Three key points emerge: First, that private property is the key to individual liberty. Second, that the Constitution was intended to protect private property against government intrusions. And third, that we have reasons to be optimistic, despite the panoply of governmental restrictions on our private property and individual liberty.

Richard Ebeling, chairman of Hillsdale's economics department, contrasts "The Free Market and the Interventionist State." The role of government in a free society, he argues, is to protect private property, maintain order, and thus maximize the incentive to create wealth. Interventionism violates property rights so that government officials can redistribute wealth according to their own plans. Ebeling laments the conception of "public policy" as synonymous with government intervention. Discussions of public policy almost always center on "What can the government do?" instead of "What can we do as individuals?" or even "What did the government do to get us in this mess in the first place?" Ebeling explains how to defend the free market against attacks based on spurious economic theory, "social justice," and "the public interest." Those who wish to improve their ability to defend the market will learn much from his essay.

Several of these lectures make an excellent introduction to constitutional economics. Hillsdale President George Roche notes that the Declaration of Independence proclaims the "unalienable Rights" of individuals, as opposed to the idea that rights are grants from the state. He outlines the economic philosophy of the Constitution: that government taxation, borrowing, and spending should be kept to a minimum and that government should permit free trade to grow.

Cato Institute fiscal analyst Stephen Moore calls the Constitution "A Rulebook for Government. …