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Deflating Legislation
by Gary M. Galles 8/8/08

Congress’ summer recess has begun, when Americans get a break from having any new legislation imposed on them.  Unfortunately, however, August will be used to promise constituents new legislative ”solutions” that aren’t or that can only come at others’ expense.  These futile promises to solve every problem by law—what Bruno Leoni called “inflated legislation”—have made government destructive of rights and property.  So as our “public servants” return home to propose further inroads, Leoni’s insights merit recalling.

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

“[C]ontemporary legal systems...leave an ever-shrinking area to individual freedom.”

“[A]uthority always prevails…individuals must yield, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.”

“[L]egislation...has come to resemble more and more a sort of diktat that the winning majorities in the legislative assemblies impose upon the minorities…”

“[A]dvocates of inflated legislation…[conclude that] what real people decide or do not decide within a society should be…replaced by what any handful of legislators may happen to decide for them at any given time...the extension of legislation and the threat of coercion that supports it.”

“[T]here should be a drastic reduction…in the number of matters in regard to which [people] are allegedly represented…[and] a corresponding increase in the number of matters in regard to which people can make free decisions as individuals without being ‘represented’ at all. The latter reduction thus seems to be the only path left for individual freedom to take…

“[S]tatutory law entitled officials to behave in ways that…[are] usurpations of power and encroachments upon the individual freedom of the citizens.”

“[N]obody is more competent to know what one’s own will is than one is oneself.”

“[W]here group decisions are deemed necessary…has been grossly overestimated…”

“[A]ll individual decisions that have proved to be not incompatible with one another ought to be substituted for corresponding group decisions…”

“[T]here is no doubt in favor of...each man making his own choices without being constrained by anybody else to do unwillingly what the latter imposes.”

“[T]he ‘common will’…is only a sham to conceal the exercise of constraint by majorities…over minorities that, in turn, would never accept the resulting situation if they were free to reject it.”

“Everyone…has more to gain from a system in which his decisions would not be interfered with by the decisions of other people than he has to lose by the fact that he could not interfere in turn with other people’s decisions.”

“[W]henever there is no possibility of any objective solution of a problem… choices are to be left to the individual and not to the authorities...”

“[L]egislation…is actually much less capable of organizing social life than its supporters seem to believe.”

“[R]eject legislation whenever it is used merely as a means of subjecting minorities in order to treat them as losers in the field, and it is possible for individuals to attain their own objectives without depending upon the decision of a group and without actually constraining any other people to do what they would never do without constraint.”

“[W]e have to reduce the powers of the legislators in order to restore as much as possible individual freedom…”

“[C]onfiscatory practices or other limitations to the free choice of the individuals... provided that they abide by some legal formalities, [can] deprive all citizens of practically all of their property if not their lives.”

Bruno Leoni made the case against inflated legislation--“the freedom to constrain other people to do what they would never do if they were free to choose for themselves”—which is incompatible with liberty.  He recognized that whenever legislation’s coercive extent expands, liberty is lost, and that the solution for reclaiming liberty was “redrawing…the areas occupied respectively by individual choices and by group decisions...with their appendage of coercive procedures.”  He showed that only deflating legislation by reducing its allowed reach can preserve liberty.  Unfortunately, politicians who favor deflated legislation are perhaps the most endangered species in Washington. CRO


copyright 2008 Gary M. Galles



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