Five Books to talk classical liberalism with your family over the holidays
By Alberto Mingardi
Politics at the Christmas table is a classic. Once your relatives know you are somehow “politically minded”, they are likely to pester you with their own views on current events. Yet if you share a broadly classical liberal perspective, you are likely to run into troubles. These ideas are sometimes difficult to grasp, particularly because they build on concepts which are very far from the instinctive attitude of many.
How to have a good conversation, even before a slice of Panettone (because Panettone is what you eat at Christmas, isn’t it)? Perhaps that is not the right time for an academic show off, but some good arguments. A little bit of irony, aided by simple and clear examples, can help in insinuating some doubts in your statist friends.
These are five books, any of which could be seen as a good “manual of conversation” in the classical liberal tradition.
1. Frederic Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms. Bad ideas die hard. Which is rather depressing but, on the other hand, it means that whatever bizarre argument for bigger government we face today, Frederic Bastiat faced it before us. Bastiat died at 49 and he had a short, but tremendously productive, career as an economist and a journalist. May we have a fraction of an ounce of his clarity and wit.
2. Milton and Rose Friedman’s Free to Choose. Remember the examples, but even more the tone. The Friedmans took their opponents seriously ad could write lightly and respectfully. The book is still an inspiration, but the TV series on which is based even more so. Friedman knew how to teach, and that comes out spectacularly.
3. Tyler Cowen’s Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero is a great read. It will help you in countering the fashionable arguments against business – which means big business, as somehow small businesses is graciously considered acceptable (anti-market people like bonsai business, in a sense: born small and kept small). If you have a pugnacious socialist aunt, be sure you read this before confronting her. (And in case you missed it, Arnold Kling reviewed this title here in May.)
4. Larry White’s The Clash of Economic Ideas is the introduction to the history of economic thought everybody should read. You’ll enjoy it, even if your interest in the subject is limited. The book gives you a good pictures of the big debates in the last century and helps you in understanding how economic debates are with history and political culture at large. (And again in case you missed it, Larry spoke with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about this book in this episode.)
5. A few years ago, Geoffrey Wood collected 50 Economic Fallacies Exposed for the Institute of Economic Affairs. That’s the book you need to bring with you to dinner, on your phone, ready to give it a glimpse during the conversation with your statist relatives and friends. They will say something that Wood has most likely already exposed for good.