An Economics Reading List

Free Trade

Bastiat, Frederic,
Economic Sophisms

    Blue Ribbon, Top Econlib PickBastiat is free trade’s greatest popularizer. This book collects his principal essays exposing the flaws that infect all arguments against free trade. This book contains dozens of Bastiat’s most lively essays. If you are looking for just one to sample, try his classic candle-making satire: Chapter 7, A Petition. Each essay is short, witty, clear, and focused on a
    particular fallacy. Bastiat’s critique of dozens of arguments for tariffs and other import restrictions is
    devastating. Economic Sophisms also provides a superb lesson in persuasive writing. Noted for his
    mastery of the reductio ad absurdum, Bastiat excelled across the board in writing both to persuade and
    to teach. Difficulty Level 0: High School

Caves, Richard, Jeffrey Frankel and Ronald Jones, World Trade and Payments: An Introduction Difficulty Level 1: College

Hume, David, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, (Part II was originally published as Political Discourses) Difficulty Level 1: College

Irwin, Douglas, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade

    This is book is not so much a brief for free trade as it is a scholarly survey of the history of
    economic thought on the topic. Irwin’s book uncovers the contexts, the motivations, and the trains of
    thought that led economists to develop the case for free trade. To truly understand the case for free trade
    requires knowledge of the development of the economic theories supporting free trade—as well as of
    those theories in opposition to free trade-and of the historical context of these theories. Irwin lucidly
    reviews all of these. Difficulty Level 1: College

Johnson, Harry, Aspects of the Theory of Tariffs Difficulty Level 1: College

Leggett, William, Democratick Editorials, particularly Part V, The Principles of Free Trade.

Mundell, Robert, International Economics Difficulty Level 1: College

Paul, Ellen Frankel, “Laissez Faire in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Fact or Myth?” Literature of Liberty, 1980.

Ricardo, David, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

Roberts, Russell, The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism

    This book provides a powerful case for free trade—the most powerful and persuasive case
    written during the past century and a half. It achieves this goal on at least two different levels. First, the
    writing is as clear as fine crystal. Roberts teaches almost all of a basic course on international-trade
    economics in just over 100 pages of engaging, charming, and compelling text. Even relatively
    complicated topics, such as the optimal tariff, are explained in ways that require no previous knowledge
    of economics. Second, Roberts goes beyond the familiar economic arguments for free trade to convey
    trade’s dynamic, open-ended benefits. Roberts extols the progress that free trade makes possible. He
    does so in a way that appeals both to already-committed free traders and to those people who, before
    reading The Choice, express skepticism about the benefits of progress. This is a remarkable book. Difficulty Level 1: College

Say, Jean Baptiste, A Treatise on Political Economy Difficulty Level 1: College

Taussig, Frank W., Some Aspects of the Tariff Question, 1915

    Debates about free trade between opposing parties often deteriorate into frustration because of a lack of facts. Frank Taussig clarified the debates with an open mind, and confronted such questions as comparative advantage, protectionism, the “young” or “infant industry argument,” and dumping. He fearlessly summarized the economic issues on both sides, and then meticulously analyzed the history of three heavily protected industries: sugar, iron and steel, and textiles to see how the facts contributed to these economic debates.

    Taussig’s combination of careful-yet-entertaining-to-read research is both inspiring and convincing. In only one small case, that of a limited portion of the silk industry, can the facts be construed as supporting protectionism in any form (in this case, the infant-industry argument). The moral of his many case studies was that what the United States does well is to invent time- and labor-saving machines (does the computer revolution of the latter 1900s ring a bell?); and that these advances were the results of comparative advantage, not protection of young industries or a young nation. Taussig’s enthusiastic research remains a model of what industry studies in economics should be: not mere tales of this or that company or technological advance, but fascinating presentations that filter through the morass of history, politics, and data to address the economic questions at hand. Difficulty Level 2: Graduate school

    Additional works of interest:

      “Tariff,” an article in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica by Frank W. Taussig

      John Stuart Mill: Various works. The infant-industry (“young industry”) argument Taussig addressed was first articulated by Mill. See, in particular, Mill’s Principles.

      Helen Brooke Taussig, Frank Taussig’s daughter Helen was as famous as he was. Read about her research and unraveling of the “blue baby syndrome.”