I’ve compiled a list of the five books I would recommend to a liberty novice. The books aren’t too lengthy, and the longest is hardly above three hundred pages. Each book is authored by a different person.
They all have something uniquely valuable to add to a person’s understanding of capitalism. The titles of the books are in bold along with the author name and number of pages, followed by a quote from the book and a summary of its contents.
Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt- 211 pages
“The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond.”
An instant classic, Economics in One Lesson was written in the 1940’s. Since its first appearance in the marketplace, it has received praise from such distinguished individuals as H.L. Mencken, Congressman Ron Paul, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman and austrian economist Friedrich August Von Hayek. This unfailingly rigorous analysis of even our most basic assumptions contains topics such as Hazlitt’s famous “Broken Window Fallacy”, the minimum wage, jobs programs created by government, the effects of taxes on production and much more. I recommend this book be read first because of its fairly objective tone and contents and because it provides a good framework through which one can view all facets of life- not just public policy.
Anatomy of the State by Murray Rothbard- 55 pages
“…’we’ are not the government; the government is not ‘us.'”
Murray Rothbard’s uncompromisingly critical view of the State in this book/essay calls into question the legitimacy of the most consistently present institution in human history. His distinction between the “economic” and “political” means of wealth attainment is one often necessary but rarely made. His profound, logical critiques of our beliefs about what the State really is are a perfect way to prepare the reader for his view of its inherently predatory nature. I recommend this book second because a skeptical perspective of the State is a necessary component on the road to further understanding liberty.
The Law by Frédéric Bastiat-48 pages
“…liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and His works.”
The Law is short, sweet and to the point. It includes a defense of natural law theory, an unequivocal rejection of what Bastiat terms “legal plunder” and a series of short refutations of all brands of socialism. You can be sure the theories laid out in The Law are here to stick around. Part of what distinguishes it from similar defense’s of private property is its affirmation that man’s rights come from God. I suggest The Law as the third work to be read because after the reader gets a handle on economics and a critical look at the State, it is important to gain an appreciation for what rights are and how just laws apply to them.
The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism by David Friedman- 325 pages
“‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country.’ Ask not, in other words, how you can pursue what you believe is good but how you can pursue what the government tells you is good.”
There need be no connection drawn between David Friedman and his father Milton in order to express his importance and intelligence. David is an economist who wrote this book in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with additions in each new edition published. The Machinery of Freedom contains answers to even the most reasonable charges leveled against capitalism. The book focuses on answering criticisms after it suggests the practicality of voluntary arrangements. He uses history and rational economic speculation to explain how a free market might respond to some difficult challenges. He does this while acknowledging that the marketplace, which changes based on the wants of each consumer, will probably produce a better, more efficient outcome than even he can predict.
Friedman recognizes that capitalism, along with all alternatives, is imperfect. He simply offers the idea that capitalism is the best way to harness our self-serving tendencies to help our fellow man. This imperfect system, he believes, coupled with an imperfect mankind can help create a spontaneous order in which private individuals accomplish their ends voluntarily. I recommend this book fourth due to its extensive analysis of a myriad of issues, to which he applies the economics and State-cynical mindset acquired in the previous books.
Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.-143 pages plus an additional 120 pages of supporting documents
“If we’d like to spit in the faces of our ancestors who fought for American independence from the British, we should by all means advocate a ‘living Constitution.'”
I put this book last because it has very little to do with the ethics or utility of free markets, but rather is an explanation of tactics to achieve an individualist society. Beginning with an objective reading of the historical record, Woods demonstrates how exactly we can resist federal overreach. He discusses at length the compact theory of the United States and the ways in which the Constitution has been bastardized by the Federal Government. Reading Nullification would change the perspectives of many Americans, and can be the first step to freeing people from the tyrannical acts of the government.
The study of these books is incredibly important. Hazlitt, Rothbard, Bastiat, Friedman and Woods have extremely valuable outlooks on all sorts of topics. If you enjoy the writing of a particular author, most of them have writings on many related subjects. Reading these works with a critical mind is a great first step to grasping the importance, morality and practicality of free markets. Keep an eye out for my next list, which will contain books for those who have already grounded their thinking in the ideas articulated in these five indispensable books.