Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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Law & Economics Working Papers


The traditional forms of public health law were directly largely toward communicable diseases and other externalities, such as pollution, with negative health impacts. The more modern view treats any health issue as one of public health so long as it effects large numbers of individuals, which would include such matters as obesity and diabetes. Historically, this paper examines the constitutional evolution of the public health principle from the narrower to the broader conception. It then argues that the narrower principle better defines the appropriate scope of coercive government intervention than the broader definition, which could easily authorize those forms of intervention in economic affairs whose indirect effects are likely to reduce overall social wealth and freedom, and with it the overall health levels of the population.



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