Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Where do I begin?

Fellow free-market thinkers,

I'm trying to indoctrinate some people at work. Since some of them are open to suggestions about which articles to read, what should I send them links to? "I, Pencil" is a good one to start with and just about anything from Bastiat is nice. What if they are starting out a bit left of center, especially economically/fiscally? Is there anything that won't scare them away completely?

Please help me out and offer your suggestions. At least for this post, let's put the details behind us and come up with a list of good (and easy to read) articles about the free-market philosophy.

Utilitarian and Natural Rights approaches are (for now) both acceptable.


William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics
Russell Roberts's The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism
Robert Heilbronner’s The Worldly Philosopher
Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else
Frederic Bastiat’s Parable of the Broken Window (Petition of the Candlemakers)
Henry G. Manne, "The Parable of the Parking Lots," Public Interest, August 1971.
Friedrich Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," American Economic Review, September 1945.
R. A. Radford, "The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp, Economica, Nov 1945.
Jerry Jordan, "Jobs Creation & Government Policies" Cleveland Fed Res, October 1996.
Anthony de Jasay, "Thirty-five Hours," Contributor's Forum, July 15, 2002.
Paul Krugman, "In Praise of Cheap Labor" in Accidental Theorist.
The Economist, "Ungenerous Endowments: The Natural Resources Myth," December 23, 1995.

I recommend most of Krugman’s post NY Times stuff and anything by Anthony de Jasay.

In fact, you can find most of these readings and other good one's
Sorry, for some reason it got cut off. Find them . They are not all free-market, but they are useful to understanding economics.
Don't forget Economics in One Lesson.

And, if you're trying to keep it short and easy, I've always liked Harrison Bergeron. It's not exactly free-market, but it's definitely about individualism/failures of coerced "equality."

Ayn Rand's Anthem is, of course, awesome
The shorter and easier, the better.

What about funny articles? The P.J. O'Rourke link from EC 302H is good.

And I can't believe I forgot "The Use of Knowledge in Society." I'm a loser.
All those recommendations made so far are great as "intermediate" level material, but in my experience, very erudite stuff, e.g. Hayek tends to put people off unless they really want to be converted and are ready to change their minds. Hayek, Bastiat, etc. are what solidified my free market views, but they weren't what gave me those views in the first place.

I've always liked Ruwart's book, Healing Our World: The Other Piece of the Puzzle. It's comprehensible to even those with no prior econ training and covers a wide variety of the topics that are in the news today.

That said, Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics" is really great too.
Thank you James.

I thought of one I really enjoy reading:

The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Chapter from The Brothers Karamazov)

It is not Free Market, but it definitely aids in understanding the paternalistic attidude involved with many political and social endeavors.
Oh yeah,

The Incredible Bread Machine!!!
What's the PJ O'Rourke link from econ 302H? Post it here - I don't think I've ever seen it.
There's also David Boaz's Libertarian Primer.

Also, the Liberty Guide at IHS has a lot of good suggestions on many topics. It includes "essential" readings and supplemental readings.
Excerpts from Chapter 1 of P. J. O'Rourke's
EAT THE RICH: A Treatise on Economics, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

We were not interested in economic ideas. And, to be fair, the business majors weren't, either. Econ was not something they took because they were fascinated by the elegant complexities of economic relationships or because mankind cannot survive without economic activity. They took Econ and forgot everything in the text so they could get a job from somebody else who took Econ and forgot everything in the text.

I decided to go back to the Econ texts I'd finessed in college and figure things out. And my beatnik loathing returned full-blown. Except this time it wasn't the business majors I despised; it was the authors of the books they'd had to study. It turns out that the Econ professors were economic idiots, too.

Looking into a college textbook as an adult is a shock (and a vivid reminder of why we were so glad to get out of school.) The prose style is at once puerile and impenetrable, Goodnight Moon rewritten by Henry James. The tone varies from condescension worthy of a presidential press conference to sly chumminess worthy of the current president [Bill Clinton]. The professorial wit is duller than the professorial dicta, and these are dulled to unbearable numbness by the need to exhibit professorial self-importance. No idea, however simple—"When there's more of something, it costs less"—can be expressed without rendering it onto a madras sport coat of a graph and translating it into a rebus puzzle full of peculiar signs and notations. Otherwise the science of economics wouldn't seem as profound to outsiders as organic chemistry does. And then, speaking of matters economical, there's the price of these things—$49.95 for a copy of Economics, fifteenth edition, by Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus."

Economics has been, as its edition number indicates, in use as an Econ text forever—that is, since 1948, which counts as forever to the baby-boom generation. The book is considered a fossil by many economists, but it has been translated into forty-six languages, and more than 4 million copies have been sold. Economics was what the current leaders of international business and industry were afflicted with in school. And here was another shock. Professor Samuelson, who wrote the early editions by himself, turns out to be almost as much of a goof as my friends and I were in the 1960s. "Marx was the most influential and perceptive critic of the market economy ever," he says on page seven. Influential, yes. Marx nearly caused World War III. But perceptive? Samuelson continues: "Marx was wrong about many things . . . but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist." Well, what would? If Marx was wrong about many things and screwed the baby-sitter?

Samuelson's foreword to the fifteenth edition says, "In the reactionary days of Senator Joseph McCarthy . . . my book got its share of condemnation." I should think so. Economics is full of passages indicating that Samuelson (if not William-come-lately-Nordhaus) disagrees with that reactionary idea, the free market. The chapter titled "Applications of Supply and Demand" states, " . . . crop restrictions not only raise the price of corn and other crops but also tend to raise farmers' total revenues and earnings." Increase your corn profit by not growing corn? Here's a wonderful kind of business where everybody can get rich if they'll just do nothing.

In the chapter "Supply and Allocation in Competitive Markets," the book seems to be confused about the very nature of buying and selling. "Is society satisfied with outcomes where the maximal amount of bread is produced," it asks, "or will modern democracies take loaves from the wealthy and pass them out to the poor?" Are the rich people just going to keep those loaves to grow mold? Why would they produce "the maximal amount of bread" to do that? Or are we talking about charity here? If so, let us note that Jesus did not perform the miracle of the loaves and taxes. We all know how "modern democracies take loaves from the wealthy." It's the slipups in the "pass them out to the poor" department that inspire a study of Econ.

It was not reassuring to learn that the men who run the companies where our 401(k)s are invested have minds filled with junk from the attic of Paul A. Samuelson's Economics.

There were newer texts than Economics for me to look at, and what they said wasn't so obviously wrong. But then again, what they said wasn't so obvious, period. Here are the first three sentences of Macroeconomics by David C. Colander (donated by Eric Owens, who lives next door to me and is taking Econ at the University of New Hampshire): "When an artist looks at the world, he sees color. When a musician looks at the world, she hears music. When an economist looks at the world, she sees a symphony of costs and benefits." Somebody change the CD, please.

The textbooks weren't good. This sent me to the original source material, the classics of economic thought. But here I had to admit, as I was tacitly admitting thirty years ago, that I don't have the brains to be a Tri-Delt. The Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, The General Theory of Whatchmacallit were impressive works and looked swell on my bookshelf, but they put me to sleep faster than the economic news of the '70s had.

There were, of course, popular books on economics, but the really popular books were about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things and getting fabulously wealthy or going to jail—preferably both. I was interested in ordinary people doing ordinary things and getting by. And the less popular but more worthwhile books on economics all seemed to presume that I'd made it through something like Economics without blowing a fuse.

So I gave up trying to be smart about economics. I decided that if I wanted to know why some places were rich and other places were poor, I should go to those places. I would visit different economic systems: free market, socialist, and systems nobody could figure out. I'd look at economically successful societies: the U.S., Sweden, Hong Kong. I'd look at economically unsuccessful societies: Albania, Cuba, Tanzania. And I'd look at societies that hadn't decided whether to be successful or not: Russia and mainland China. I'd wander around, gape at things, and simply ask people, "Why are you so broke?" or "How come you're shitting in high cotton?"

**He also wrote some pretty funny stuff for National Lampoon while he was at Harvard**
Keep them coming.

Any articles, though? I might not be able to convince people to buy these books.
I hate to say it. But I never really thought about the moral consequences of the free-market until I read Rand's "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" while I was in High School.

Though I now find most its contents questionable or objectionable, I actually found the book fresh, exciting, and a little frightening at the time. I'm sure it still colors my philosophical disposition.

But I seriously doubt it would persuade anyone that didn't want to be persuaded.
I got into free market econ through a set of books aimed at high school students written by Richard Mayburry called The Uncle Eric series. The first book is called "Whatever Happened to Penny Candy" and includes excerpts from several of the sugested articles above. Amongst my favorites are "Not Yours To Give" by Davy Crockett, and "Letter To His Grandson" by Fred Kent.
As always, I also recommend "The Mainspring Of Human Progress" by Henry Grady Weaver, which I doubt any of you has read, despite my repeated recommendations. FEE will give you a discount on these if you ask.
I will buy you a copy of Penny Candy if you promise to read it and give it away when you are done.

How long is it? I'm always into free books, but I need to know how tough your demands are.
186 pages. I have actually taught this book to 6th graders. The school where I taught (Agape Corner Boarding School) had many ADHD kids and many students behind grade level. They understood this book. And if you haven't read the Letter To His Grandson, it is easy to find on the net.
The frist bit of Letter to his Grandson,

"How can there be a profit which is not taken from the work of someone else?

Profit is the result of enterprise which builds for others as well as for the enterpriser. Let us consider the operation of this fact in a primitive community, say of one hundred persons who are non-intelligent beyond the point of obtaining the mere necessities of living by working hard all day long.

Our primitive community, dwelling at the foot of a mountain, must have water. There is no water except at a spring near the top of the mountain: therefore, every day all the hundred persons climb to the top of the mountain. It takes them one hour to go up and back. They do this day in and day out, until at last one of them notices that the water from the spring runs down inside the mountain in the same direction that he goes when he comes down. He conceives the idea of digging a trough in the mountainside all the way down to the place where he has his habitation. He goes to work to build a trough. The other ninety-nine people are not even curious as to what he is doing.

Then one day this hundredth man turns a small part of the water from the spring into his trough and it runs down the mountain into a basin he has fashioned at the bottom. Whereupon he says to the ninety-nine others, who each spend an hour a day fetching their water, that if they will each give him the daily production of ten minutes of their time, he will give them water from his basin. He will then receive nine hundred and ninety minutes of the time of the other men each day, which will make it unnecessary for him to work sixteen hours a day in order to provide for his necessities. He is making a tremendous profit – but his enterprise has given each of the ninety-nine other people fifty additional minutes each day for himself."

The hundreth man goes on the develop a water wheel, a grist mill, and then hires various other villagers to do the things he notices they do best, such as make shoes, etc.


Originally found in The Free Market Reader- edited by Bettina Bien Grieves, FEE.
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