This article covers 5 books I would recommend for purposes of understanding conservative economics, as well as some other sources.
I am enrolled in a class called Intro to Public Policy at George Mason University. I have enjoyed the class very much so far. We discuss both practical and theoretical ideas with regard to public policy and naturally we have ended up discussing the interaction of markets and politics at great length. The professor had us read a well known book on the topic called The Market System by Charles Lindbolm. In researching this article I found that the book is actually freely available on the web here. You can also read an Austrian criticism on the book here.
Eventually the professor and I agreed that the book leans somewhat to the left and he kindly invited me to recommend some materials which might be more representative of conservative, capitalist and laissez faire economics. To that end I will focus the discussion on a recommendation of 4 books in this article, but I will touch on numerous smaller articles and even a some video as well.
His only request was that I select some relatively up to date texts. He wanted something newer than Milton Friedman’s work Free to Choose, which he recognized as a classic but felt was now a bit dated. Lindbolm’s book was printed in 2001 so my recommended texts will all be newer than that. I am choosing a moderate Austrian text, a far-right Austrian text, a centrist Chicago school text and a far-right text which is also descended from the Chicago school, but it is so far right that if you go to Chicago and mention it to them they will probably pretend like they don’t know what you are talking about just to avoid conversation.
In order of most ideologically centrist to most ideologically extreme-right:
1) The Virginia School of Public Choice Political Economy
The Virginia School is really where modern Public Choice Theory originated. Gordon Tullock is the father of the science and has written many great books on the subject, but unfortunately they are all dated according to the standard we are using. Interestingly, he taught for a long while at George Mason University and GMU is one of the great incubators of PCT. Dennis Mueller is another important figure in Public Choice Theory and he has appropriately been both President of the Southern Economic Association and also a long time professor in Austria, earning the title of Professor Emeritus in 2008. Mueller single-handedly shows the very appropriate web of links between the South, conservative economics, public choice political philosophy, Virginia and Austria. He also has a current book! I am happy to recommend Public Choice III, the book which marks the furthest left you can go and still be an economic conservative. If you would like to fork out nearly $500, he also edited the extremely pricey and extremely awesome The Economics of Politics, a two-volume anthology of political economy in history and theory.
2) The Hayekian Tradition of the Austrian School of Economics
The Austrian school is a now relatively mature school of economics which has undergone several internal fractures over time. Hayek’s brand of Austrianism, which is a actually a little left of mainline Austrianism, is about center-right on the American spectrum, putting it at right about the same spot as Public Choice Theory. For example, The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute among others are influenced by this brand of Austrianism. Hayek’s popularity is perhaps nowhere better demonstrated than in a well known YouTube “Epic Rap Battle of History.” Part 1 is shown below:
Hayek is notable among Austrians in that he supported some government intervention, but in a very peculiar sense. He thought that markets could essentially handle anything and should not be interfered with at all, but he thought that governments had to conduct certain nightwatchman duties to ensure that markets could form. This would be essentially limited to police and military, with a few other minimal services. While this may sound like an obvious idea to a non-economist, there is a surprising lack of carrying on of this tradition by modern economists. I would say that Thomas Solow is probably the only person I can think of who both maintains an overall Hayek-esque attitude and also writes with authority on the subject. While the book is rather long, I would have to recommend Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy.
3) The Rothbardian Tradition of the Austrian School of Economics
The most extreme brand of Austrianism which is still large enough to have a recognized school of scholars is the Rothbardian School. As mentioned in this article, this is the school of economics which Ron Paul advocates. For this job I would recommend Thomas DiLorenzo’s work Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government. First, the book is very current. It was published in 2012. Secondly, the Rothbardian School makes a vast volume of interesting and unorthodox claims and as such a proper treatment would usually require reading several different books. DiLorenzo’s approach is to take a non-technical and light-depth survey of the whole field rather than a deep economic look at a particular part of the field. Finally, his book is available entirely free through the Ludwig von Mises Institute at this link.
4) The Kind of Chicago School of Anarcho-Capitalism
When I say Kind of Chicago School, don’t be fooled. This school has some serious brain power behind it in the form of David Friedman, a theoretical physicist, law professor and the son of the great Chicago School economist Milton Friedman. David’s son, born in Virginia, has contributed to the field as well. The reason I call it Kind of Chicago School is that Chicago as a whole has moved left of Milton Friedman in what is now called Modern Monetary Theory and simultaneously diminished in repute. They do not accept David’s ideas and David does not teach there, nor does David teach economics at all on the university level. On the other hand, David’s ideas are clearly derivative of his father’s. David’s book The Machinery of Freedom is a legendary work in the field and is freely available but dated. At the risk of recommending a book I haven’t read yet, Edward Stringham is yet another GMU alumni and also a known and current propagator of anarcho-capitalism. One of his books, Anarchy and the Law, the Political Economy of Choice is reputed as comprehensive (over 700 pages) and highly rated (5 stars on amazon). It is also said to be written in a fashion much clearer than David writes. Here is a short video where David somewhat introduces the concept:
5) The Real Chicago School of Economics
Thomas Sowell is a powerhouse of conservative and libertarian thought with a knack for not sounding as crazy as Friedman’s lineage, at the potential cost of failing to carry his own ideas to their logical conclusion. This very center-right school should still be taken note of because, alongside Public Choice, it is the one of the most popular schools of thought. Gary Becker is another big Chicago guy and specializes in family and behavioral economics which is a big field these days. Books I would recommend from these guys include Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy and Becker’s Social Economics: Market Behavior in a Social Environment.
- Who was Friedrich Hayek? And why does he hate Keynesianism? (dailypaul.com)
- The False Dichotomy of Rothbardian Anarchism and Hayekian Classical Liberalism (austrianeconomists.typepad.com)
- Economics in Ten Short Lessons (economicpolicyjournal.com)
- Guide To The Economic Schools Of Thought (robertnielsen21.wordpress.com)