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Twelve Books

A Café Hayek reader – Ken – flatters me by asking what are the “dozen or so most influential books” I’ve ever read. I take a stab here at listing these, even though doing so is self-indulgent – and, in fact, very difficult. (Total influence is almost impossible to disentangle from influence at the margin.) But here goes. The first one is easy:

  • F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, especially Volume 1 (“Rules and Order”)  Where to begin?  Hayek’s elaboration of the distinction between law and legislation is of signal importance.  This book’s influence on my thinking is so deep and wide that I’m intimidated at the prospect of trying to list even just the major ways it has shaped my world view.

Selecting the remaining eleven books is more difficult:

  1. Leonard E. Read, I, Pencil — This is a short monograph rather than a book.  But it’s profound.  So much wisdom extracted from something seemingly so mundane.
  1. F. A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order – The included essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” is of special importance, but, in addition, the essays “Individualism: True and False,” “The Meaning of Competition,” and “The Facts of the Social Sciences” are also especially influential to my thinking.
  1. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Part II (“Can Capitalism Survive”) – I read this book early on after reading Benjamin Rogge’s brilliant essay entitled “Can Capitalism Survive?  While the bulk of Schumpeter’s book has since faded in my memory, Part II is etched deeply and sharply, especially Schumpeter’s unparalleled discussion of competition as rivalry and his knocking the false god of “marginal cost pricing” from its pedestal.
  1. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker – Evolutionary thinking at its finest; scientific writing at its finest.  Never again, after reading this book, do I flatter myself that my subject (economics) is too deep or difficult to explain in clear and accessible language.
  1. Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 – I can’t describe how much this book changed my view of the world and of economics.  Human creativity and effort, simultaneously unleashed and channeled by the market, as the ultimate resource.  What a deep, profound, and indispensable realization!
  1. James M. Buchanan, What Should Economists Do? – Public choice, yes, but so much more, including much methodological wisdom.
  1. David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom – To put it bluntly, this book made me an anarchist.
  1. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom – Practical policy advice combined with a passionate and principled commitment to individual freedom and other liberal values.
  1. Frederic Bastiat, Economic Sophisms (and here) – Unmatched persuasive writing, as well as unsurpassed insights into the nature of trade.
  1. Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life – 600+ pages of clear and objective descriptions of the lives of misery led by our pre-industrial ancestors.
  1. Harold Berman, Law and Revolution – Law is no imposition of a sovereign ruler, and freedom is no gift of Great Men perched atop rearing horses or lecturing in stentorian tones before rapt assemblies.  Law – true law – and freedom both grow only when power is decentralized and besieged.

I treat myself to offering a baker’s dozen:

13. Geoffrey Brennan & Loren Lomasky, Democracy and Decision — This spectacular volume opened my eyes to plain reasons why people behave so intelligently     in some domains of life (mainly private ones) and so stupidly in others (mainly political ones).


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