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» » The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement
The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement


Barbara H. Fried


The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement



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Harvard University Press (December 21, 2001)




Social Sciences



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The Progressive Assault on Laissez Faire: Robert Hale and the First Law and Economics Movement by Barbara H. Fried

Law and economics is the leading intellectual movement in law today. This book examines the first great law and economics movement in the early part of the twentieth century through the work of one of its most original thinkers, Robert Hale. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the 1930s, progressive academics in law and economics mounted parallel assaults on free-market economic principles. They showed first that "private," unregulated economic relations were in fact determined by a state-imposed regime of property and contract rights. Second, they showed that the particular regime of rights that existed at that time was hard to square with any common-sense notions of social justice.

Today, Hale is best known among contemporary legal academics and philosophers for his groundbreaking writings on coercion and consent in market relations. The bulk of his writing, however, consisted of a critique of natural property rights. Taken together, these writings on coercion and property rights offer one of the most profound and elaborated critiques of libertarianism, far outshining the better-known efforts of Richard Ely and John R. Commons. In his writings on public utility regulation, Hale also made important contributions to a theory of just, market-based distribution.

This first, full-length study of Hale's work should be of interest to legal, economic, and intellectual historians.

While I certainly cannot agree that this book, or its principal subject, Robert Hale, present anything close to "one of the best demolitions" of laissez-faire, this book is quite intriguing; and I think that anyone who is in the business of defending the concepts of laissez-faire or present-day libertarianism would do well to ponder upon Hale's arguments. This is not to say that a full understanding of Hale is essential (it may even be stretching it to say useful) for a complete defense of laissez-faire, but he certainly does present an intellectual and philisophical challenge for it's adherants. Fried does an excellent job of documenting and reiterating Hale's approach to legal theory and the early 20th century thought underlying it - but in the end, we are really only left with Hale's analysis which, while intriguing and ingenious, is little more than an intellectual puzzle the ramifications of which even Fried (an evident admirer) expresses some skepticism.
Hale's attempts to defeat the concept of laissez-faire (linguistically) put him in the position of beating up on traditionalists like Thomas Nixon Carver, without giving us any practical reason as to why they were right or wrong. Even if we were to take Hale's central argument as correct, (he essentially contests the idea of a minimalist state as conceptually incoherent) Hale gives litte to no insight as to why the "coercion" he advocates is preferable to the "coercion" of the marketplace. Only once in Fried's book is the antithesis of Hale, Frederich Hayek, mentioned - whose defense of laissez-faire was primarily based on it's efficiency in conveying vast amounts of interspresed and fragmented knowledge as to the opportunity costs of goods and labor, and contantly changing values and preferences throughout complex societies. Yet it is this argument which is (by far) more central to the debate about laissez-faire - and this argument which Hale essentially ignores - preferring instead to defeat classic liberals on their choice of terms. Even if he were right, Hale gets us absoultely nowhere; not to mention, as does Fried, that Hale's expansive notion of "coercion" to include any form of human conduct tends to embarrass the idea of free speech or the civil rights movement - of which his progressive counterparts have been so active in protecting.
The book does not only deal with the so-called "empty" ideas of liberty and property, but also extends to Hale's analysis of "suplus value" of property and rate regulation of monopolies. There are problems here as well - but by far the most important are his idea regarding freedom and coercion. Hale is a intellectual challenge, but really nothing more - and while he clearly rejects the conceptions of liberty and property as they were conceived in the Lochner era, he gives us no good reason to do the same; and at times it seemed that even Fried wanted to pop Hale's balloon - but for some reason could never quite bring herself to do it.
Similar in content to "Mein Kempf" and "The Communist Manifesto"
If you are communist you will like this book.

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