Granting officials discretion is unavoidable whenever the government steps outside its legitimate role. When the government intervenes in money markets, when it bails out companies, when it seeks to eliminate ‘harmful’ competition, regulate prices, or force business to pursue social goals, it violates the concept of government by promulgated standing laws. Furthermore, as Friedrich Hayek warned, granting discretion creates a slippery slope to lawlessness:

As planning becomes more and more extensive, it becomes regularly necessary to qualify legal provisions increasingly by reference to what is ‘fair’ or ‘reasonable’; this means that it becomes necessary to leave the decision of the concrete case more and more to the discretion of the judge or authority in question. One could write a history of the decline of the rule of law … in terms of the progressive introduction of these vague formulas into legislation and jurisdiction, and of the increasing arbitrariness and uncertainty of, and the consequent disrespect for, the law and the judicature. (The Road to Serfdom, 1944.)

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove