David R. Henderson  

Free Market Economics Books Bleg

What's Wrong With IVs? [wonkis... Walter Oi, An Appreciation...

An economist friend of mine at a conservative "think tank" in Washington, D.C. asked me to recommend 5 to 10 free-market oriented economics books that he could recommend to interns so as to "expand their universes." I quickly came up with 5, but I don't want to bias the discussion.

So please make your recommendations. You could recommend any number of books between 1 and 15. I'll treat it as a Chinese menu before I make my recommendations to him.

UPDATE: The response has been tremendous. Thank you all. Don't let that stop you if you have not commented yet and have something to add. I will send a link to my friend, as well as my own picks. Some of them will be from your lists below.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Education

COMMENTS (46 to date)
Steve Reilly writes:

Armchair Economist - Steven Landsburg

Hidden Order - David Friedman

Basic Economics - Thomas Sowell

Economic Sophisms - Frédéric Bastiat

raja_r writes:

Not sure if this qualifies as an economics book, but "The rational optimist by Matt Ridley" is one that "expanded my universe"

dave smith writes:

Armchair Economist
The Choice by Russ Roberts
The Not So Wild Wild West

John Alcorn writes:

John Meadowcroft, The Ethics of the Market (Palgrave, 2006).

Ian writes:

Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Friedman

drobviousso writes:

I'd suggest Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts by occasional Econlog commentor Tim Worstall. Very digestible overview of how economic thinking could be applied to mitigate environmental problems that most people think are pretty intractable.

Brian writes:

A few other suggestions people might not think of-

Knowledge and Decisions by Thomas Sowell
Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Invisible Hook by Pete Leeson
Econopower by Mark Skousen

Milton Recht writes:

The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity by Russell Roberts

SG writes:

Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: the Managerial Revolution in American Business

Heavy on practical detail and light on economic theory, but it's a really well-done examination of how modern corporations came to dominate American capitalism. I tend to be more theoretical in my thinking (loved my college economics class so much) and I appreciated how this book forced me to think more deeply about the theory and how it relates to reality. I think it won a pulitzer, too.

Anthony de Jasay, The State

Randall M. writes:

Any/all works by Bastiat
Economics in One Lesson - Henry Hazlitt
The Machinery of Freedom - David Friedman

These have the virtue of being clear and easy to digest in ways that, say, Human Action and Individualism and Economic Order are not. DDF's book has the added virtue that economic principles can take you in a lot of directions most people never think about, whether you buy into libertarian anarchism or not.

James Dunn writes:

Three I recommend, all by Thomas Sowell, as well as why they should be read in this order:

1. Economic Facts and Fallacies
2. Conflict of Visions
3. Basic Economics

Now the reasons for each:

#1) It exposed me to just the tip of the iceberg of economic fallacies that exist out there. And because of the ease of which these fallacies can be perpetuated, I resolved to learn more about economics.

#2) Dr. Sowell clearly outlines the role of facts, "Facts do not speak for themselves. They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theories or visions are mere isolated curiosities", as well as the competing visions of the constrained and unconstrained man. Because a lot of economic discussions revolve around factual numbers this booked helped me be able to think of the theory or vision that drive the conclusions that a given commentator is drawing.

#3) After #1 & #2, I felt prepared to dive into the theory of economics.

Hayek's Individualism and Economic Freedom and, as a similar book, Mises' Economic Freedom and Interventionism. A little bit technical, but Buchanan's and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent helps explain that there can be a healthy relationship between institutions of governance and institutions of the market.

Dan S writes:

I would spice things up by possibly including some of these:

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes
The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon
Bourgeois Dignity by Deirdre McCloskey (have not read this one actually)

The point of these is to not give them yet another "yay markets! deregulate stuff!" book (presumably there's one in there already) but to give them one that suggests markets exist along a spectrum and are very historically contextual.

Also Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics is very informative and easy to read in my opinion. Those students will probably want to understand financial crises. I know that's not really conservative but it's still good.

c141nav writes:

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution

by Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem

Alberto Mingardi writes:

I would add to the many brilliant suggestions two other classics:
O'Driscoll-Rizzo, The Economics of Time and Ignorance
Buchanan-Wagner, Democracy in Deficit
I think Larry White's The Clash of Economic Ideas is a very lively introduction to the history of economic thought in the 20th century - that may be valuable for interns/students. And to "expand their universe", I think Ronald Coase and Ning Wang's "How China Became Capitalist" would be very good.

Arnold Kling writes:

Eamonn Butler, The Best Book on the Market

Vuk Vukovic writes:

The classics:
Hazelit, Economics in One Lesson
Buchanan and Tullock, Calculus of Consent
Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, Road to Serfdom
Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Sowell, Basic Economics

some new, good ones (and not yet mentioned):
Pennington, Robust Political Economy
Tomasi, Free Market Fairness
Friedman and Kraus, Engineering the Financial Crisis (best one on the fin crisis)

Woodrow writes:

I would suggest:

Common Law and Common Sense for the Environment by Bruce Yandle

James Rolph Edwards: Painful Birth: How Chile Became a Free and Prosperous Society

Jorge Edwards: Persona non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution

Georgie Anne Geyer: Buying the Night Flight (two chapters, Old Cuba, New Cuba and Chile: Reform and Despair)

The State by Franz Oppenheimer, challenges the common opinion that the state was established because it was needed.

The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, by Bruce Benson, convinced me that law can exist without the state.

mickey writes:

These may or may not be free markets economics but I think even if not they "expand your universe" in a related way and may be of value to it still:

Economics In One Lesson by Hazlitt
The Rational Optimist by Ridley
Launching the Innovation Renaissance by Tabarrok
Economics for Real People by Callahan
Defending the Undefendable by Block
Walk Away by French
Why American History Is Not What They Say by Riggenbach
Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls by Butler
Against Intellectual Property by Kinsella
Politically Impossible by Hutt
The Theory of Idle Resources by Hutt

Bob Murphy writes:

At first I hesitated to recommend my own, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism," but then again that's why I wrote the book--to fulfill just this purpose.

Paul Craddick writes:

I find these always repay (re)readings:

Economics of the Free Society by Wilhelm Roepke

Principles of Economics by Carl Menger

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter

Ross Levatter writes:

There are some excellent choices above. One not yet mentioned, perhaps because it is not an econ book per se and certainly not an INTRO book, but which I recommend nonetheless because it is well written, shows a brilliant application of the economic way of thinking, and introduces think-tank interns to Public Choice, is Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter.

Don Boudreaux writes:

Several worthy books have been mentioned. Here's another:

Common Sense Economics, by James D. Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, & Dwight R. Lee:


Monte writes:

Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (in depth and advanced, but a 360 treatment of free markets and favorably reviewed by a well-known research fellow at the Hoover Institution)

John Levendis writes:

Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlett
Defending the Undefendable, by Walter Block
The Machinery of Freedom, by David Friedman
Cost and Choice, by Buchanan

Sinclair Davidson writes:

Steven Kates - Free Market Economics: An Introduction for the General Reader.

jure writes:

capitalism: a treatise on economics, George Reisman. The most thorough research on philosophy of capitalism and economics. It is actually a ''bible'' of free market economics, political theory and philosophy.

Basic Ecoonmics, Thomas Sowell. The most comprehensive and eloquent explanation from best writer

EclectEcon writes:

The Economic Way of Thinking by Paul Heyne and Pete Boetke

Free to Choose

Magusj writes:

Robert Murphy's Lessons for the Young Economist is a great introductory course, very didactic.

It's also available free online:

Blakeney writes:

Here are a couple that I don't think have been mentioned:

  • The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto (2000, Basic Books)
  • Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice by Tullock, Seldon and Brady (2002, Cato Institute)
Syed Ahsan writes:

Thanks for sharing it Prof. But I am unable to get the source of some of these books. Would appreciate if we can also get the links to these books. Thanks

Tim C writes:

-Capitalism the Creator by Carl Snyder
-Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand
-Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt
-Money and the Mechanism of Exchange by William Stanley Jevons

Although some of these are not exactly econ books they should be required reading.

Troy Camplin writes:

The books that have brought me along have been:

Poverty and Wealth -- Ronald Nash
Free to Choose -- Milton and Rose Friedman
The State Against Blacks -- Walter Williams
Bionomics -- Michael Rothschild
The Origins of Order -- Stuart Kauffman (not technically economics, but important in my thinking on economics -- as were many other books on complexity and chaos and bios theories)
Butterfly Economics -- Paul Ormerod
Complex Adaptive Sytems -- John H. Miller and Scott E. Page
The Economy of Love and Fear -- Kenneth Boulding
Shakespeare's 21st Century Economics -- Frederick Turner
Individualism and Economic Order - Hayek
The Fatal Conceit -- Hayek
Law, Legislation, and Liberty -- Hayek
Human Action -- Mises
The Self-Organizing Economy -- Paul Krugman
Competition and Entrepreneurship -- Israel Kirzner

emerich writes:

One more that has not been mentioned, which I found compelling years ago:

The Incredible Bread Machine, by R. W. Grant.


L'Bryan Eek writes:

Undercover Economist by Tim Harford, or his Logic of Life.

Steve Reilly writes:

So, David, what were your picks?

A list of books on political economy from the UFM's mural:


Beginning is my comment in Polish, but later on the list of books (and links to ebooks) is in English.

c141nav writes:

I was in a hurry with my initial post for:

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution

by Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem

please give it a second look.

This book synthesizes Acemoglu & Robinson's Why Nation's Fail , Bastiat's Economic Harmonies, Don Boudreaux, Victor Claar, Paul Collier, Dinesh D'Souza, William Easterly, Niall Ferguson, Milton Friedman, George Gilder, Friedrich Hayek, David Henderson, Arthur Laffer, David Landes' The Wealth of Nations, John Locke, Gregory Mankiw, John Mauldin, Stephen Moore, Charles Murray, Leonard Read, Matt Ridley, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Sowell, Ludwig von Mises, and many others with The Bible.

It deserved more than a second look.

Mike Everett writes:

Three more -

The Power of Productivity, by William W. Lewis

The Force of Finance, by Reuven Brenner

The Way the World Works, by Jude Wanniski

Brad Petersen writes:

Let us not forget The Joy of Freedom by none other than David Henderson. Another great book.


genauer writes:

Wilhelm Röpke "Krise und Konjunktur"
available as english pdf as well

Walter Eucken "Ordnungspolitik"

"Grundsätze der Wirtschaftspolitik", recommmended by Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank, for every politician to have it under his pillow : - )

The english versions come at a price of 89 $ or

Foundations of Economics by Eucken, Walter. (Springer,2011) [Paperback] $302.09 used (3 offers)

Speedmaster writes:

I'll go with these.

Capitalism and Freedom: by Milton Friedman
Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy by Thomas Sowell
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
The Law by Frederic Bastiat
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism by F. A. Hayek
Dr. Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions
Economic Facts and Fallacies: Second Edition by Thomas Sowell
The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton Folsom
The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon

Giorgio writes:

I can't disagree with any of the above suggestions; all great readings. I would add a completely different perspective

Ron Smith, Military Economics: The interaction of power and money.

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