Great Works on Liberty That Could Change People’s Minds

Update February 1: I now count 46 rsponses, with Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson the leading single vote-getter and Thomas Sowell the leading author with six total votes. Thanks to everyone who pparticipated in such a fun project--I don't plan to update continuously but it would be cool to figure out a way to formalize this list somehow. -- Max

On a whim yesterday, I tweeted a question: “If there’s one article or book you wish those on ‘the other side’ could read with an open mind, what would it be?” I think we’ve all had moments debating one issue or another where we thought that if only the other person better understood some crucial idea, there would be no debate at all.

I wish I could say I kept my question intentionally vague to allow respondents to gravitate to the works that inspired them the most. But it was just a tweet — albeit one seeking an antidote to what felt like a particularly ugly week filled with more attacks on character than usual. Sometimes it’s nice to get back to the ideas that inspired us or changed our own thinking in the first place, even if nobody will be setting up a book club for political adversaries anytime soon.

By this morning, I had two dozen responses that I thought were interesting enough to share with our readers. My Twitter followers are certainly not a random sample, nor was the question in any way scientific, and I’ll refrain from critiquing any response from the list below, which I present in alphabetical order by author. My aim is to let people share the works that most inspire them.

Useful Knowledge

My own choice was F.A. Hayek’s 1945 paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Some may protest that academics of all stripes already know the work — the American Economic Review named it one of the top 10 papers in its history. And it’s also not ideal for an economic novice. But its key insight, that knowledge is dispersed throughout the economy and any planner would necessarily throw away information relative to decentralized decision-making and a well-functioning price system, made me see why there are better ways to help people than trying to fix markets from the top down. I desperately wish my friends on the left saw the importance of that one idea.

But I’ll let the long list of works below speak for themselves. Hayek, Hazlitt, and Sowell tie for the lead with three recommendations each. These great works may not get to those with whom the respondents debate, but I hope that anyone can both find something new and be reminded of an exhilarating aha moment from years past. Thanks so much to those who responded. I’ll do my best to update the list for anyone so inspired.

The List

Bastiat, Frederic. The Law

Dylan, Bob. Chronicles: Volume One

Friedman, Milton, Capitalism and Freedom

Friedman, Milton, Free to Choose

Goldberg, Jonah. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change

Hayek, F.A. “The Theory of Complex Phenomena”

Hayek, F.A. “The Use of Knowledge in Society”

Hayek, F.A. The Constitution of Liberty

(2x) Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom

(4x) Hazlitt, Henry Economics in One Lesson

Hazlitt, Henry Time Will Run Back

Hoffer, Eric. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy: The God that Failed

Huemer, Michael. The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey

Johnson, Steve. Emergence

Koppl, Roger. Expert Failure

Lavoie, Don. National Economic Planning: What Is Left?

Leonard, Thomas. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty

Natelson, Robert G. The Law of Article V: State Initiation of Constitutional Amendments

Publius. The Federalist Papers

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged

(3x) Reed, Leonard, "I, Pencil"

Rothbard, Murray. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto

Shaffer, Butler. "How Do We Know When the State is Lying?"

Simon, Julian. The Ultimate Resource

(2x) Skousen, Mark and Jo Ann. “Persuasion vs Force”

Sowell, Thomas, A Conflict of Visions

(2x) Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics

Sowell, Thomas. The Quest for Cosmic Justice

(2x) Sowell, Thomas. The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

(2x) Spooner, Lysander. No Treason

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Tetlock, Phillip. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Tucker, Jeffrey. Right-Wing Collectivism: The Other Threat to Liberty

Wallison, Peter. Hidden in Plain Sight: What Really Caused the World's Worst Financial Crisis — and Why It Could Happen Again

 

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Max Gulker

Max Gulker is an economist and writer who joined AIER in 2015. His research often focuses on free markets and technology, including blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the sharing economy, and internet commerce. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, especially on blockchain technology. Max’s research and writing also touch on other economic topics, including governance, competition, and small businesses.
 
Max holds a PhD in economics from Stanford University and a BA in economics from the University of Michigan. Prior to AIER, Max spent time in the private sector, consulting with large technology and financial firms on antitrust and other litigation. Follow @maxgAIER.