Best books in liberalism 2012

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.

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23 Responses to Best books in liberalism 2012

  1. david

    Libertarian Anarchy by Gerard Casey

  2. Julie Novak

    Hi David – definitely agree with Gerard Casey’s book as being one worthy of reading!

  3. Rabz

    an eminent free‑market feminist

    Such a creature sounds about as likely to exist in the real world as “an eminent marxist intellectual”.

  4. Julie Novak

    I’m a free-market feminist, too, distinct from the big-government feminists who seek to enlist the coercive state to implement affirmative action policies.

    There’s nothing Marxist about my, or McElroy’s, position, and we both live in the real world.

  5. Rabz

    … distinct from the big-government feminists who seek to enlist the coercive state to implement affirmative action policies.

    That’s exactly my point – those feminists would disown you.

    And it’s not just AA policies they demand, but confiscatory transfers of wealth from men to women through ‘progressive’ taxation and other coercive means.

    Oh and the whole remaking of society thing, in order to emasculate men, by delegitimising traditional gender roles and pillars of civilization such as the family.

    There’s nothing Marxist about my, or McElroy’s, position

    I wasn’t implying there was.

  6. Xevram

    RE your call for nominations:

    Zombie Economics
    by Prof. John Quiggin

  7. Nuke Gray

    “Why the west rules, for now” is a great book- a look at historic trends, both East and West.
    “The most powerful idea in the world”, by William Rosen. On why Britain was best placed to benefit from new machines and patents, thanks to John Locke, and why France didn’t, thanks to the philosophies of people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The book ends with a Lincoln quote, ‘The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius’.

  8. .

    RE your call for nominations:

    Zombie Economics
    by Prof. John Kwiggin

    Is this where he recants his positions from his previous books where is silly predictions have failed to come true?

  9. Julie Novak

    Xevram – my post implied I was seeking your feedback about great books written recently by classical liberals/libertarians, not communists!

    As an aside, I have numerous honourable mentions too many to name, but they would include Lawrence White (The Clash of Ideas), Arthur Brooks (The Road to Freedom), Luigi Zingales (A Capitalism for the People), and many more. For those interested in “bleeding-heart libertarian” thinking, see John Tomasi (Free Market Fairness), or those keen on anarcho-capitalism see Hans-Hermann Hoppe (The Great Fiction).

    Rabz – I stand corrected.

    Nuke – book sounds interesting…

  10. Max

    Rabz –

    ” but confiscatory transfers of wealth from men to women through ‘progressive’ taxation and other coercive means.”

    Dont worry about that Rabz. When you need a helping hand Feminists will be the first in line to get you back on your feet…..

    Afterall look at the amazing contributions they make in Charity and volunteer organisations, Bush Fire brigades, and surf lifesaving.

    Feminists make massive demonstrable contributions to our society. Look at how they supported the victims of Bilal Skaf

    http://www.steynonline.com/4217/asking-for-it

    As terrible as the crime was, we must not confuse justice with revenge. We need answers. Where has this hatred come from? How have we contributed to it? Perhaps it’s time to take a good hard look at the racism by exclusion practised with such a vengeance by our community and cultural institutions.

  11. .

    Feminists make massive demonstrable contributions to our society. Look at how they supported the victims of Bilal Skaf

    I agree. There used to be a very cute chick lifesaver at Long Reef.

  12. Rococo Liberal

    Such a creature sounds about as likely to exist in the real world as “an eminent marxist intellectual”.

    TFTFY

  13. Xevram

    Julie Novak:
    Your own nominations for best classical liberal or libertarian books for 2012, or in recent years, are welcome.
    No sorry the above is not an implication.

    You assert or even imply that Prof. Quiggin is a communist, perhaps you could provide some evidence for that.

    Dot:
    Is this where he recants his positions from his previous books where is silly predictions have failed to come true?

    Is this your critique of his book after having read it?

  14. Sinclair Davidson

    Julie Novak

    Your own nominations for best classical liberal or libertarian books for 2012, or in recent years, are welcome.

    Xevram

    No sorry the above is not an implication.

    Xevram is a troll.

  15. .

    Is this your critique of his book after having read it?

    Yes, along with the terrible Great Expectations.

  16. Andrew Carr

    It’s a year old (2011), but I enjoyed The Declaration of Independents by Nick Gillespie & Matt Welch. Have recommended it to several friends. Fits very well with Gen-Y attitudes.

    Thanks for the rest of the suggestions. Have added a few to the amazon book queue.

  17. Rabz

    Thanks Julie,

    Apologies for having a go.

    Having grown up in the seventies, the term ‘feminist’ instantly sticks in my craw for what I consider to be a multitude of very sound reasons.

  18. blogstrop

    I admit to not reading hard-core economics, but in the past couple of years have enjoyed the following: Mark Steyn’s After America, Andrew Breitbart’s Excuse Me While I save The world, Peter Schweizer’s Architects Of ruin, Don Rumsfeld’s Known Unknowns, and Peter Costello’s The Costello Memoirs. In the pending pile is George Bush’s Decision Points, Delingpole’s Watermelons, and Laframboise’s AGW destruction book; I’ve just – belatedly – started Nick Cohen’s What’s Left.

  19. Nuke Gray

    I think I should also add, “The Rational Optimist”, though I can’t remember the author’s name. the book discusses the vital role of trade in civilisation. It even mentions the institution of marriage as a trade- the husband got sex, children and a kept house, whilst the wife got an income, or in more primitive times, a supply of meat to supplement her gathering of vegetables.

  20. Pingback: Don’t call me the A-word : Hey… what did I miss? | Institute of Public Affairs

  21. Jessie

    Nuke Gray @10.24am

    That’s funny Nuke. The outback women that I have known in Australia have been able to stone goannas from trees, or dig them out or break the goanna’ neck with heavy mulga sticks associated with a designated approach maximising self-safety. Additionally dig for hours to retrieve witchetty grubs or bait handlines to catch all manner of fish.
    Failing that: take up an opportunity, adopt a uniform, and work, to receive red meat (killer) from the station owner/head ringer.
    I guess the iron they received from red meat must have been in addition to the work of gathering.

    I do acquiesce that building a dugout canoe for hunting turtle and dugong was arduous. However I have read no academic papers on distribution of that meat. Nor that of kangaroo.

  22. Nuke Gray

    Jessie, he was talking about civilised continents, not Australia!

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