Hoover Daily Report

Notable & Quotable

via Wall Street Journal
Friday, June 21, 2013

Legal scholar Richard A. Epstein, writing online for the Hoover Institution's journal Defining Ideas, June 18:

All government actions should be examined under a presumption of distrust. In many domains, that presumption should hold firm. It is for that reason that [I have] defended constitutional regimes that afford strong protections to economic liberties and private property—at least in cases where matters of national security are not on the table.

For instance, with the minimum wage, there is no coherent case for state intervention. The state should never spend public resources to degrade the efficiency of private markets.

Yet, not all cases are solved by [my] categorical rule concerning distrust of the government. According to libertarian theory, the bedrock function of government is to put in place institutions that limit aggression in both domestic and foreign affairs. The question is: Are the means chosen reasonably adapted to the stated ends? Any effort to squelch all government abuse will result in a field day for terrorists and criminals. It is never easy to set the right balance of government power versus individual liberty given that we have to contend with two kinds of error—letting terrorists and criminals escape or infringing upon the rights of innocent individuals. . . .

Without a sense of proportion, this nation cannot survive. There is no escaping the fact that national security is an area where government may be appropriately feared, but is still desperately needed. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty. The solution is to work hard to maintain a proper balance, which cannot be done if the NSA collection and retention of data is regarded as an intolerable invasion of individual privacy rights, when at the present it is anything but that.