Grading Barack Obama

Libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein on his former University of Chicago colleague

Few legal scholars have blown as many minds and impacted as many national arguments as Richard Epstein. His 1985 volume Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain made the controversial argument that zoning, environmental regulations, and other government actions that substantially limit the use or decrease the value of property should be viewed as a form of eminent domain and thus strictly limited by the Constitution. The result was a firestorm of outrage, followed by a trickle of acknowledgment that maybe the guy was onto something.

As Epstein told reason in a 1995 interview, “I took some pride in the fact that [Sen.] Joe Biden (D-Del.) held a copy of Takings up to a hapless Clarence Thomas back in 1991 and said that anyone who believes what’s in this book is certifiably unqualified to sit in on the Supreme Court. That’s a compliment of sorts.…But I took even more pride in the fact that, during the [Stephen] Breyer hearings [in 1994], there were no such theatrics, even as the nominee was constantly questioned on whether he agreed with the Epstein position on deregulation, as if that position could not be held by responsible people.”

Born in New York in 1943, Epstein splits his time between faculty appointments at the University of Chicago and New York University; he is also a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and a contributor to reason. In books such as Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws (1992), Simple Rules for a Complex World (1995), and Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism (2003), Epstein has been pushing his ideas and preconceptions to their limits, taking readers along for a thrilling intellectual ride. Epstein, who writes a weekly column slugged “The Libertarian” for Forbes.com, is a die-hard individualist who believes the state should be limited and freedom expanded. He is also a consummate intellectual who demands of himself ironclad proofs for his characteristically counterintuitive insights into law and social theory.

Indeed, Epstein’s enduring value may be not any particular legal or policy prescription he has offered over the years but rather his methodology. He believes in robust and unfettered argument and debate as a way of gaining knowledge. If you don’t put your ideas out in the arena, you can’t be doing your best work, he argues. “The problem when you keep to yourself is you don’t get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you,” he says.

reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie interviewed Epstein at NYU’s law building in October. They talked about legal challenges to ObamaCare, the effects of stimulus spending and TARP bailouts, and a former University of Chicago adjunct faculty member by the name of Barack Obama, with whom Epstein regularly interacted in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“He passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture,” says Epstein of the future president. “He’s amazingly good at playing intellectual poker. But that’s a disadvantage, because if you don’t put your ideas out there to be shot down, you’re never going to figure out what kind of revision you want.”

A video version of this interview, filmed and edited by Jim Epstein with help from Michael C. Moynihan and Josh Swain, is online at reason.tv.

[Print interview continues below the video]

reason: The economy has lost 3.3 million jobs, consumer confidence is half its historical average, and unemployment is 9 percent. To what extent is Obama responsible for this?

Richard Epstein: He’s not largely or exclusively responsible, but he’s certainly added another nail into the coffin. The early George Bush—I think he got a little bit better through his term—and Obama have a lot in common. Bush wanted a pint-sized stimulus program that failed and Obama wanted a giant-sized stimulus program that failed. Neither of them is a strong believer in laissez-faire principles. The difference between them, which is why Obama is the more dangerous man ultimately, is he has very little by way of a skill set to understand the complex problems he wants to address, but he has this unbounded confidence in himself.

reason: So he’s the perfect Chicago faculty member.

Epstein: He was actually a bad Chicago faculty member in this sense: He was an adjunct, and we always hoped he’d participate in the general intellectual discourse, but he was always so busy with collateral adventures that he essentially kept to himself. The problem when you keep to yourself is you don’t get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you. So he passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture.

reason: What kinds of interactions did you have?

Epstein: Usually in the breezeway, because he was always running and gunning for some other kinds of things. I also knew him because my next-door neighbor, Marty Nesbitt, is one of his best friends, and I would see him there and speak about him.

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  • Johnny Longtorso||

    He's teaching Saul Alinski at the chalkboard, BTW.

  • Realist||

    Wasn't Richard Epstein on Reason TV about 3 weeks ago, with the same subject?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This appears to be the transcript of that.

  • Save Cleveland||

    Are you accusing reason of repeating itself?

  • Pip||

    I see what you did here.

  • yonemoto||

    yes, but it was clear from that video that Epstein is an unlikeable douche. The text transcript is safer.

  • Realist||

    To the contrary.

  • Chinny Chin Chin||

    he was always so busy with collateral adventures

    Interested in the student body, was he? Eh? Liked his extracurricular activity, did he? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Locked door during office hours... know what I mean?

  • Rather||

    They don't leave the classroom for extra-curricular activities anymore

  • Robert||

    In one case, several students apparently took off their clothes and were naked in the classroom. In the second incident, a boy and girl reportedly engaged in oral sex in front of their classmates.


    The school is blaming the teacher, but it's hard to understand what actually went on or whether the teacher can fairly be blamed. Let's say a bunch of the 2nd graders in a class prearrange to do this. First thing the teacher knows, they're doing it, and what can that teacher do? Grab one or two of the kids? That'll look really good, huh, teacher holding a pair of naked children?

  • Old Mexican||

    He was actually a bad Chicago faculty member in this sense: He was an adjunct, and we always hoped he'd participate in the general intellectual discourse, but he was always so busy with collateral adventures that he essentially kept to himself. The problem when you keep to yourself is you don't get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you. So he passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture.


    Or, maybe he didn't realize those ideas were being exposed, just like he seemed not to realize his own pastor was a bombastic, anti-American racist even when going to his church for 20 years...

  • Jeffersonian||

    It's all about climbing the greasy pole, OM. Wright served his purpose in giving Obama street cred while in Chicago. The Harvard Law Review polished his intellectual image, while no one can remember a thing he wrote in it, and the UoC gig fluffed his resume' enough to allow the Left to inflate it into a full professorship of Consitutional law.

  • ||

    So it wasn't Magna Cum Laude at Harvard Law or President of the Harvard Law Review?

    You are a fucking idiot.

    It shames Jefferson that you appropriate his name. Jefferson was a liberal in the shadow of John Locke so why don't you quit lying?

  • ||

    Don't insult shriek's mancrush, J! It makes him hyper!

  • ||

    So it wasn't Magna Cum Laude at Harvard Law or President of the Harvard Law Review?

    You are a fucking idiot.

    Too many scotches, Shiek! Once you get there you begin to project. Are you claiming that he graduated Magna Cum Laude? Since his transcripts haven't been released this seems highly unlikely. Are you claiming that being President of a student journal is it's equivalent?

    I would never advise a man to lay off the scotch. Lay of the posting...

  • ||

    Hat tip to M. Gill. He has a good memory.

    Any post of mine 7-9 EST will probably be tainted by the Best of Scotland.

  • fish||

    Too many scotches, Shiek!

    Did you just try to call Reasons favorite Yorkie a condom?

  • fish||

    Oh shit.....Reasons favorite Yorkie is Max. My apologies!

    Please continue ranting shiek....err I mean sheik.

  • ||

    A ham sandwich can get a magna cum laude at Harvard Law if it's got the right connections.

  • ||

    About once a month a comment posting causes me to chuckle out loud in appreciation. This is the January, 2011 winner.

  • ||

    referring to:

    "I would never advise a man to lay off the scotch. Lay of the posting..."

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Aww, poor shirk. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

  • ||

    If Washington Mutual were to come back to life, do I get my shares back?

  • Rather||

    I thought Chase bought them out?

  • ||

    He mentions this in the interview--WM emerging from Chase.

  • I come for the comments||

    Pro Lib, are you telling me I have to read the articles too!

  • Paul||

    WaMu is the PETS.com of the financial industry.

    It's gone.

  • Realist||

    One of the most corrupt, shit companies in mortgages.

  • ||

    I want my stock back, you son of a bitch!

  • Gregory Smith||

    Well good, for once everyone hates Obama and his socialist policies. At least that's the impression I get from the four comments so far.

    http://libertarians4freedom.blogspot.com/

  • Paul||

    You can say that again.

  • Gregory Smith||

    Well good, for once everyone hates Obama and his socialist policies. At least that's the impression I get from the four comments so far.

    http://libertarians4freedom.blogspot.com/

  • ||

    Dude, you obviously have no idea what the fuck you're talking about.

    Red State is that way ======>>

    Bye!

  • Gregory Smith||

    Screw you, you stupid liberal. I am a right-leaning libertarian. Now go back to fantasizing about Obama and his humongous stimulus package. I'm sure you enjoy getting f by the state.

  • ||

    Hey, it's racist cop fellator GREGOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Of course a Jew is going to harsh on a Black. Seems racist to me.

  • Sammy Davis, Jr.||

    Fucking schwartzes!

  • Realist||

    Obama is a putz.

  • Billy Crystal||

    Have fun stormin' the Castle!

  • Gregory Smith||

    Well forgive me, Mr. Hitler, I guess you've never heard of The Black Panthers, The Nation of Islam, Jeremiah Wright, Malcom X, and Farrakhan.

    Epstein didn't say a word about race, yet you can't stand it when anyone criticizes your boy in the White House.

  • DesigNate||

    You must be new here. FoE and Heller ARE NOT Obama supporters.

  • ||

    reason: What’s the first government program that you would cut?

    Epstein: Agricultural subsidies and import barriers are an obvious place to start. Knock out something like ethanol.

    Typical pussy conservative. I am a liberal and I would start with the Medicare doc fix - kill it.

    If your first words are not Medicare, SS or defense you are a fucking pussy.

  • Realist||

    Most social security and medicare recipients payed into the system....end the poverty programs. That saves $591 billion a year!

  • ||

    $591 billion/year for poverty programs? Does that include SS/Medicare?

    (it couldn't - they are much higher)

    TANF is down to $30 billion a year.

    Food stamps are protected by the GOP Ag lobby. Medicaid is a state program.

    You pulled that 591 right out of your ignorant ass.

  • Realist||

    Shrike, I pulled it out yo' momma's ass. But the number I reported came from the CATO Institute.
    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=12146

  • ||

    Good cite as it says-

    All together, the federal government spent more than $591 billion in 2009 on means-tested or anti-poverty programs, and will undoubtedly spend even more this year

    But Cato is known for double and triple counting.

    What is a "poverty" program?

    Unemployment obligations? Food subsidies for ConAgra or Cargill?

    Medicare Pharma Bush Welfare for Merck?

    I maintain the real "beneficiary" of Medicare is the Medicare Care Lobby - not dying old fucks.

    Who rips us off?

    Dying old fucks or the lobby for their benefactors?

  • Paul||

    What is a "poverty" program?

    General Motors, Chrysler, AIG, UAW, etc.

  • ||

    In Canada, it includes Bombardier and Pratt-Whitney. And a few others of course.

  • ||

    "In Canada, it includes Bombardier and Pratt-Whitney. And a few others of course."
    That's funny. I work for Bombardier and we do a shitload of business with pratt-whitney..
    Then again, I've always wondered how we managed to stay in business. We've been bleeding owner retention and earnings for as long as I've been here.

  • Realist||

    What is a "poverty" program?
    That is a program where the government takes, by force, money from productive people and gives it to worthless, lazy shit bags!

  • ||

    So you also hate ConAgra, Merck, Exxon, Cargill, and Halliburton!

    Now we're bros!

  • sevo||

    You left out ADM.
    Then we're bros.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    shrike left out ADM for a reason, but he's too much of a fucking coward to admit what it is, exactly.

  • Realist||

    Medicaid is payed for by Federal money...stolen through taxation.

  • Hyphenated American||

    "$591 billion/year for poverty programs?"

    Federal welfare was $557 billion dolalrs in 2010:
    http://www.usgovernmentspendin.....ml#usgs302

    That's not counting medicaid, ss and medicare.

  • Pip||

    And "Typical" was your first word, so...

  • ||

    If your first words are not Medicare, SS or defense you are a fucking pussy.

    No, if you first words are not Medicare or SS then you are either ignorant or a liar. Defense spending doesn't increase like the other two, and since it is not an "entitlement" it isn't going to explode with the aging of our population. Citing defense is when you are a Leftard and think that the governments only purpose is to steal from the rich and provide validation for "alternate lifestyles".

  • ||

    You must hate Ron Paul then.

    You were making good sense until the "validation for alternates" type SoCon craziness.

  • ||

    I agree with Ron Paul on some things, but not others. If he isn't talking about the two things that will consume a giant portion of future spending, Medicare and SS, then he isn't serious about it.

    Yeah, the alternative lifestyles bit was just a shot, another tiny drop in spending that is meaningless when compared to the bank breakers.

    If you believed a Republican or Libertarian was going to seriously cut these areas would you support him?

  • ||

    OK - you are specific and sensible now.

  • ||

    OK - you are specific and sensible now.

    Dude, yer so geh

  • Mr. FIFY||

    shrike and sensible do not belong together in any sentence.

  • Yeah||

    Defense spending doesn't increase like the other two...

    Who cares? It's increased pretty much in lock step with the other two. What reason do you have to think it's going to stop increasing? The only reason it won't is if we, you know, cut it.

    Citing defense is when you are a Leftard and think that the governments only purpose is to steal from the rich...

    Claiming everyone who disagrees with you is a leftard is for rightards who think anything they like that has any utility at all should not be cut. It's not that different from a leftard position, actually.

  • ||

    Claiming everyone who disagrees with you is a leftard is for rightards who think anything they like that has any utility at all should not be cut. It's not that different from a leftard position, actually.

    Yeah, that is what I did. Apparently, you lack reading skills as well as reasoning ones.

    While someone with the name of "Yeah" really doesn't deserve a response, I will use the opportunity to espouse my wisdom about favoring defense cuts. Who knows, you might even learn something.

    By all means, the DoD could have it's budget reduced by 75% and it would not significantly decrease the security of the average American. Just like eliminating the Department of Educations budget by 100% would not negatively affect the education of the average American.

    Saying you favor cutting defense when addressing our fiscal position is, as I said, not serious. I use the term Leftarded because, while defense could certainly be reduced, naming it alone won't dig us out of the hole. Indeed, it is the most massive wealth transfers in the history of mankind, Social Security and Medicare, that will kill us, which are wet dreams of the Leftard. You know, those who think that it will work if we only find the right leaders to implement the Five Year Plan. Saying you are fiscally serious and are going to dig us out of a hole by ending foreign aid would be similarly disingenuous.

  • Hugh Akston||

    He said that Ag subsidies were a good place to start. Programs that pay farmers not to produce are easy to sell, cutting grandma's benefits not so much. The first cut doesn't always have to be the deepest, you statist shitback.

  • Robert||

    Agriculture subsidies are remarkably politically resilient, all around the world. In the 1990s the USA was well on the way to repealing subsidies and other price supports, but they came back. The trouble in the USA (I don't know about other countries) is that the rural votes you need to cut or even restrain spending are also big promoters of farmers' interests, which means mostly established big agribusiness. So pretty much to make lasting progress on other fronts, you need to punt on farm subsidies. You need to screw somebody weaker.

  • ||

    So if we don't cut Medicare first, we shouldn't cut anything at all? You're really promoting the Perfect-Good fight on pay per view there, shrike.

  • Robert||

    Don't just gore, slaughter the ox of whoever's politically weakest 1st. Don't try to be fair at all. Pick on somebody, anybody and be ruthless about it, appealing to envy, etc.

    Only once all the weak hands have folded is it time to tackle the big entitlements. If we can get to a situation where the federal gov't practically is the Social Security & Medicare agency, then finally envy can be aroused against the recipients there. Divide & conquer.

  • shrike, unmasked||

    The Decoder Ring translates the above post to read:

    I am a typical pussy liberal and I would start with cutting Reason's endowment because you are a fucking pussy.

  • Gregory Smith||

    Defense spending is a joke compared to all the pork. I'd start with NPR, PBS, the NEA, the NHA, the BATF. After that, I'd have the Department of Interior sell all that public land, or did you not know that the feds own 70% of Nevada?

  • T||

    Man, I hate it when I agree with shriek, even tangentially.

    I figure if you can't immediately start listing cabinet level bureaucracies to kill, you're not for real. Ag subsidies? How about the entire freaking department?

  • ||

    And both DOE's, and anything that starts with an H (HUD, HHS) or ends with a C (FTC, FCC, CPSC),

  • Paul||

    This. To really cut government it has to be fundamentally restructured.

  • ||

    Exactly.

    There are three big components to Federal spending -- defense, SS, and medical.

    No one will tackle them - with the exception of Ron Paul/Kucinich fans (not a fan though).

  • Robert||

    We can tackle them seriously once the US gov't is doing practically nothing else. Then they will be in an exposed condition.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    With the last gang of criminals, and the current crop of same, we're getting closer to just such a situation.

    And we're getting there faster than even under the grip of the GeeDub Crew.

  • ||

    If you start talking about destroying Cabinet departments, you're going to get booted out of office. The GOP didn't get a mandate to cut entitlement programs, so the would be budget-slashers need to walk a tightrope.

  • Paul||

    He has a way of listening to you to make it appear as though you’re the only person in the world who matters.

    This is a minimum requirement for getting elected to any higher office.

  • ||

    And then immediately after your conversation, he goes and rips you behind your back to the next person he talks to.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    When I listen to his speeches it appears as though he thinks he's the only person in the world who matters.

  • No Name Guy||

    "The difference between them [Bush and The Chosen One], which is why Obama is the more dangerous man ultimately, is he has very little by way of a skill set to understand the complex problems he wants to address, but he has this unbounded confidence in himself."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

  • ||

    I don't see how that makes him different from Bush.

  • ||

    Tulpa, you watched to many Bob Beckel commercials. George Bush was governor of Texas for how many years? As opposed to the number of days Obama was a Senator? How many Presidents have held a masters degree in business, and from Harvard? They give those away? Yeah, they are the same.

  • ||

    Gawsh, Obama's chalkboard style is terrible. Between the sloppy all-caps handwriting and the pretentious box drawing when a list would function just as well, the view that picture offers into the deepest dregs of his miserable excuse for a professorial soul is extremely disquieting.

    Of course, we should be happy he isn't using a teleprompter at least.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    In academia they're called lecture notes.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    “I took some pride in the fact that [Sen.] Joe Biden (D-Del.) held a copy of Takings up to a hapless Clarence Thomas back in 1991 and said that anyone who believes what’s in this book is certifiably unqualified to sit in on the Supreme Court.

    Considering it was Biden, I guess we should be grateful he didn't hold up a copy of Green Eggs and Ham instead.

  • Contrarian P||

    I dunno...the pictures would have kept him occupied for hours.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    The problem when you keep to yourself is you don’t get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you. So he passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture.

    I'd disagree with Epstein here in the sense that he's arguing that Obama's intellectual bubble was caused by him isolating himself from the rest of the faculty. Everything about him that he's shown so far indicates that he's as intellectually incurious as Bush ever was, and thus approaches every disagreement from the same flawed personal paradigm of how he believes his political opponents think. His speeches in which he mimes positions employing conservative buzzwords (the ones the media latched on to in an effort to show how "post-partisan" he was) are a pretty good example of this.

  • ICGAMBLERS||

    If I am reading your comment correctly, you are saying Obama is inept at cognitive dissonance and shows only an elementary ability to document and express opposing positions.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Basically, he projects a "Whats the matter with Kansas" caricature of what he thinks the conservative position is.

  • ||

    With a name like Epstein, it has to be financially sound.

  • ||

    von Mises, Rothbard, Friedman, and Rand agree.

  • ||

    Should we have an adult administration anytime in the next few years, Mr. Epstein would be a very nice addition to the usual sycophants.

  • ||

    Any "thinker" who advocates doing away with minimum wage, welfare, etc. is a doofus pretending to be able to reason. Epstein hasn't got a clue.

  • sevo||

    Proudelibrul|1.25.11 @ 9:27AM|#
    "Any "thinker" who advocates doing away with minimum wage, welfare, etc. is a doofus pretending to be able to reason. Epstein hasn't got a clue."

    Yep, evidence is so un-progressive.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    So the raising the minimum wage does not increase business costs and drive up prices? Then leaving the "working poor" that you are so desperate to save
    in exactly the same position they were in before they were "saved" by the passage of feel good legislation like the minimum wage.

    What a magical universe you live in, do things fall upward and do people put hats on their feet?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Yeah, look how great the minimum wage has been in keeping inflation down.

  • Grenouille||

    "You don’t want to have strong civil rights laws, which only gum things up. You want to get rid of the Family Medical Leave Act. You want to knock out the minimum wage."

    The master wants us to go back to the plantations, have our babies in the fields, get back to work and enjoy our gruel when it is given to us. I can almost feel the whip cutting into the skin on my shoulders.

    What a nice, warm feeling.

  • Affliction Lock FTW||

    Idiot.

  • ||

    Seriously. That sounded like it was cut-and-pasted from "The Onion." Usually when you put that kind of language into the mouths of a GOP or Libber they act all shocked and offended that you would caricature them so crudely.

    But this guy really Embraces The Suck -- "The Suck" being his very essence.

    I wish he or some like-minded a$$clown would get the GOP nomination in 2012 running on exactly that agenda: "Vote GOP! We'll kill the minimum wage and civil rights laws." Dems would end up with a 75% majority in both houses of congress.

  • ||

    1. Civil rights laws would not have been necessary to begin with, if not for previously government-sponsored institutionalized racism.

    2. Once those laws did remedy the previous stupidity, they just allowed reverse racism to flourish. They should have been placed under a sunset clause.

    3. Society managed to function for quite a while without men taking 6 weeks off to "bond" with their newborns (and based on most men I know, they aren't "bonding" that much with the little shits until they are toddlers anyway, so they are mostly using the 6 weeks to catch up on their beer-drinking and daytime TV)

    4. Minimum wage was addressed nicely up-thread

    5. Moe, meet Ron

    Otherwise, you fucking nailed it.

  • ||

    Well that dude kicks ass. I could listen to him all day long. Why can't we have guys like him in government?

  • Indiana Health Insurance||

    I give him a C-. He hasn't failed, but he needs to concentrate more on what's good for our economy, not what he thinks is good for the economy. Big difference.

  • nike running shoes||

    is good

  • alipay||

    good

  • رش مبيدات||

    No, if you first words are not Medicare or SS then you are either ignorant or a liar. Defense spending doesn't increase like the other two, and since it is not an "entitlement" شركة تنظيف فلل بالرياض
    it isn't going to explode with the aging of our population. Citing defense is when you are a Leftard and think that the governments only purpose is to steal from the rich and provide validation for "alternate lifestyles".

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