Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

My Methodological Flip-Flop on Individual Liberty

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Abstract

I trace my conversion over forty plus years from a traditional libertarian who tends to ignore the consequences of individual actions to a utilitarian who regularly invokes the standard of Pareto improvements to evaluate the choice of legal rules and institutions. That difference is most apparent in connection with the common-law position on refusal to rescue, which I once defended on grounds of individual liberty, regardless of consequences, but later came to defend it by a more consequentialist account. Going beyond individual liberty also heavily influences public law, where topics such as taxation and eminent domain require a framework that looks at the reasons for the exceptions to claims of individual liberty.