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Mind-Expanding Stocking Stuffers

In my latest column for AIER I recommend seven books, each published in 2019, to give as gifts to friends with curious and open minds. A slice:

Arthur Diamond, Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. As does George Will, Diamond emphasizes the vital role played by individual entrepreneurs in helping to create modern mass prosperity. (The accounts of the challenges and efforts of flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs through the years is alone worth the price of this book.) And as does Deirdre McCloskey, Diamond recognizes also the importance of widespread respect for innovators and businesspeople. Making clear that modernity’s prosperity is the result of creative destruction, this book offers an unusually effective and powerful explanation of genuine market competition and a brilliant brief for its indispensability and for its goodness.

Tyler Cowen’s Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero. Short and fast-paced, my George Mason University colleague Tyler Cowen gives here three unapologetic and enthusiastic cheers for big business. In doing so he mows down, one after another, many of the superstitions and myths that foster in the popular mind an unwarranted suspicion of – and often a downright hostility to – firms that in markets grow large. Tyler has nothing against not-big businesses. But he performs a much-needed public service by revealing not only the special conditions and abilities that enable some businesses to become big, but also the too-often-unseen advantages that those big businesses, in turn, enable us denizens of modern commercial society to enjoy.

Virgil Storr and Ginny Choi, Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals? Nothing has ever been more fashionable among intellectuals, left and right, than to condemn markets for allegedly transforming noble, generous, and community-minded folk into contemptible, venal, and self-centered near-sociopaths. Storr and Choi go beyond convincingly showing that this allegation is wholly untrue; they reveal it to be the opposite of the truth. That which in fact does most to civilize us is markets. Markets tame our instincts to physically aggress against each other. Markets, in other words, create not only immense and widespread material prosperity, they also create a humane, generous, polite, and truly civilized society. Montesquieu’s doux commerce thesis is true after all.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith,  Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. Being illustrated, this book is literally colorful. And although fun – indeed joyous – to read and filled with cartoons, this is no cartoon book. The authors – text by Caplan, illustrations by Weinersmith – tackle objections, big and small, to opening America’s borders much wider to immigrants. They make a compelling case that those objections collapse under close scrutiny.

I am in awe of the amount of knowledge conveyed convincingly in the book’s 214 pages of illustrated text. Statistics, history, economics, and philosophy are brought together seamlessly to put opponents of immigration on the intellectual and ethical defensive. Yet while the authors don’t shy away from endorsing completely open borders, they are neither dogmatic nor unrealistic. They understand that achieving imperfect liberalization is indeed an achievement compared to no liberalization at all, and they even give insight into how to make small steps in the direction of liberalization politically doable. This amazing book could be a game-changer in the immigration debate.


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