Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation

By Shapiro, Daniel | Freeman, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation


Shapiro, Daniel, Freeman


Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation by N. Scott Arnold Oxford University Press * 2009 * 504 pages * $74.00 hardcover; $35.00 paperback

Reviewed by Daniel Shapiro

Liberalism comes in two varieties, classical and modern. All liberals support limitations on government power, but modern liberalism favors, while classical liberalism opposes, significant interference with private property rights. N. Scott Arnold's book on the classical-modern liberal debate focuses on the modern-liberal regulatory agenda, especially employment law (such as collective bargaining rules and antidiscrimination law), health and safety regulation (such as the FDA and OSHA), and federal land-use regulation (such as the Endangered Species Act and wetlands regulation).

Arnold first asks if reasoned agreement between liberals about this agenda could be achieved by some shared principle. Liberals disagree too much about basic rights to provide common ground, but perhaps this ground could be generated by a common principle that the State has some role to play in providing public goods. Some classical liberals, however, accept the legitimacy of State -provided public goods only if they cannot feasibly be provided by nongovernmental means, and if the State does provide them, everyone who benefits must pay his share of the costs. But the goods provided by this regulatory agenda aren't really public goods (for example, product safety regulations), or could be provided privately (for example, the FDA's assurance of safe and effective drugs), or are not paid for proportionately by everyone who benefits (for example, land-use regulation's costs fall almost exclusively on affected landowners).

Finding no common ground between liberals on the modern liberal regulatory agenda, Arnold then discusses conversion arguments, arguments for why classical liberals ought to make exceptions to their principles about the scope of government action. Typically, modern liberals use these arguments by identifying some alleged failure in the market order that would supposedly be solved by government regulation; classical liberals reply that regulation makes things worse than they would be if the programs were dismantled or radically altered. After thoroughly canvassing this debate, Arnold concludes the replies are reasonable, which means reasonable disagreement between liberals persists.

Faced with persisting disagreement about the proper scope of government, Arnold argues that liberals must commit to certain procedural requirements to legitimately impose their values on society: The policies must be established democratically (by the elected branches of government) and be both publicly justified and transparent. By publicly justified, Arnold means that reasons must be given for legislation, which requires taking the views of the other side seriously and not misrepresenting its arguments. By transparency, he means that the beneficiaries and victims of legislation - both intended and unintended - must be identified. …

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