A few months ago, I came across a principle for evaluating legislation, and I vaguely recall it having been attributed to U.S. President Eisenhower. I did not write down the reference and I have been unable to find the quote again. Does anybody recognize it, and if so, could you please give me a reference for it? It roughly stated:

Do not judge a law by its intended purpose, but by the ways in which it could be abused.

1 Answer 1


I think you're possibly remembering a quote from the Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. In a 1975 interview on the Open Mind show with Richard Heffner, Friedman gave the following response when asked whether it was fair to characterize him as a conservative economist.

HEFFNER: Professor Friedman, I wonder if I might begin the program by saying that you’re a kind gentleman, yet you’re identified by many with those who seem — to those who make that identification to want us not to do kind and gentle things — perhaps not provide for the poor, perhaps not provide for the aged — and I wonder how you’d reconcile these phenomena and whether you feel it’s fair to characterize you as a conservative economist.

FRIEDMAN: Well, let me start at the end of that first. I never characterize myself as a conservative economist. As I understand the English language, conservative means conserving, keeping things as they are. I don’t want to keep things as they are. The true conservatives today are the people who are in favor of ever bigger government. The people who call themselves liberals today — the New Dealers — they are the true conservatives, because they want to keep going on the same path we’re going on. I would like to dismantle that. I call myself a liberal in the true sense of liberal, in the sense in which it means of and pertaining to freedom. Now, that brings me to your second point. One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. We all know a famous road that is paved with good intentions. The people who go around talking about their soft heart — I share their — I admire them for the softness of their heart, but unfortunately, it very often extends to their head as well, because the fact is that the programs that are labeled as being for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well-intentioned sponsors intend them to have.

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