2012 has been much like many years over the past century, a not altogether inspiring one for adherents of classical liberalism.
The post‑GFC stagnation throughout the West has continued to drag on, as the political classes in Europe and the United States, in particular, show no inclination to genuinely reduce the breadth of their economic interventions to promote economic growth.
Monetary authorities persist with their policy exotica, including so‑called quantitative easing, which distort production structures and risk stoking price inflation in the longer term. Politicians remain hesitant to cut through the swathe of anti‑growth regulations, perhaps for fear of raising the ire of, and reducing political donations made by, politically well‑connected crony capitalists.
As riotous scenes throughout the European periphery have demonstrated, political representatives are most certainly reticent to systematically reduce government expenditures for fear of upsetting the mass of voting welfare recipients.
Matters have not much improved in the United States, either, with politicians motivated by short term electoral considerations fiddling as the federal public fisc burns uncontrollably. The vanquishing of a big‑government statist (Romney) by another big‑government statist (Obama) in the recent presidential election epitomised just how far the US has departed from its ‘land of the free’ ideal.
At home all governments, and in particular the commonwealth, seem hell bent on Europeanising the Australian economy, implementing growth‑retarding new taxes, promising and implementing massive new social policy entitlement schemes, and making a political virtue out of the growing amount of economically retrograde legislation passed.
In these circumstances classical liberals could be forgiven for losing hope for a genuine realisation of liberal principles anytime soon. But rather than remain despondent in the face of creeping socialism many classical liberals and libertarians are busily replenishing their intellectual stocks by actively writing high‑quality books, addressing contemporary issues and outlining arguments in ingenious ways to hopefully inspire new generations to heed the timeless liberal message of freedom.
In fact the quality of classical liberal and libertarian books published this year have been quite outstanding. Some of you will be aware of the publications I cite below (all of which I have read during the year), but those who don’t will benefit significantly from their insights. In no particular order, my selection of the best books in liberalism for this year is as follows:
Living Economics: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Peter Boettke)
Winner of the 2012 Foundation for Economic Education Award for ‘Best Book in Austrian Economics.’ Provides insights into the lives and intellectual legacies of the famed teachers of economics in modern times, and best practices in the communication of economic knowledge. The first chapter, providing a sweeping intellectual defence of Smithian‑Hayekian ‘mainline’ economics grounded on value‑added private productions and the sophisms of political intervention in markets, is worth the retail price alone.
Deficits, Debt and Democracy: Wrestling with Tragedy on the Fiscal Commons (Richard E Wagner)
Explains government budget deficits and public sector debts as a symptom of fiscal institutions and political behaviours that encourage ‘overgrazing of the fiscal commons.’ Provides unique insights on public sector growth as the product of increasing entanglement between political and market connections. Wagner sets the groundwork for an intellectual reorientation of public finance which will stand the test of time.
Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government (Yaron Brook and Don Watkins)
Readable account of the basic philosophies of Ayn Rand, whose works have enjoyed something of a recent resurgence in interest, and providing unique applications of Randian ideas to contemporary public policy problems. Very solid on the importance of non‑economic rationales for free markets and limited government.
Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy (Robert Higgs)
Thought‑provoking collection of new and previously published essays concerning the tensions between liberty and political democracy, and the dynamics of public sector growth driven by frequent ‘crises.’ Higgs possesses a rare ability to expose the inherent truths about the nature and role of the modern state.
After the Welfare State (Tom Palmer)
A masterful collection of essays edited by Palmer, and published by Students for Liberty and the Atlas Network. Diagnoses the profound economic, fiscal and social problems associated with the governmental welfare state, and how the deep insurance markets, varied charities, and strong family and community bonds of yesteryear can pave the way for a revival of non‑government welfare in our lifetimes.
Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Jason Brennan)
Presented in a highly readable Q&A format, this book responds to common misconceptions about libertarianism and traverses a very wide range of economic and social issues that arouse the curiosity of most non‑libertarians, and even libertarians. Brennan’s discussions about libertarian attitudes to economic freedom and majoritarian democracy are particularly valuable.
Hypocrites and Half‑Wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity from Café Hayek (Donald J Boudreaux)
A selection of letters by the best economics letters‑to‑the‑editor writer in the world today, regarded by some as a modern day Frederic Bastiat. Fun‑to‑read book (a rare quality for a primarily economics text!) exposing a litany of economic fallacies which, in doing so, communicates to the ‘everyman’ the tenets of basic economics.
In Defence of Freedom of Speech: From Ancient Greece to Andrew Bolt (Chris Berg)
Very timely and comprehensive work by Australia’s leading libertarian thinker on the importance of free speech as a constituent element of liberty and freedom more generally. In a modern world in which speech has being eroded by government legislation and conformist mores, this book may yet arouse a renewed appreciation of freedom of speech as the best means of discovering the best ideas that humanity has to offer.
The Art of Being Free (Wendy McElroy)
McElroy is an eminent free‑market feminist and, in this unique book, she makes an open call for people to practice the ‘art of being free’ through the exercise of self‑responsibility, self‑reliance and the shunning of politicised solutions to everyday problems. Her optimistic approach concerning our practical possibilities to realise freedom in our lives is refreshing.
French Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (Robert Leroux and David M Hart, eds.)
The essential English‑language primer on the highly original, yet terribly neglected, French school of classical liberalism which reached its intellectual peak during the mid‑nineteenth century. Features translations of works by the likes of Jean‑Baptiste Say, Destutt de Tracy, Frederic Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari and Yves Guyot, and many others largely unknown to many English readers.
Your own nominations for best classical liberal or libertarian books for 2012, or in recent years, are welcome.