The best books on big economic policy debates

Kimberly Clausing Author Of Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital
By Kimberly Clausing

Who am I?

I became an economist because I realized that economics was a powerful tool that would help society solve vexing problems. While economics has limits, it has so much to offer in terms of better policy design for tackling everything from climate change to economic inequality. My life’s work has been devoted to both economic research and helping others understand the insights of economics. I spent many years in academia teaching economics and writing papers, and I authored Open in an attempt to make the complexities of international economics more transparent. I’ve also had the chance to work firsthand on some of these issues in the early part of the Biden Administration at the US Treasury.


I wrote...

Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital

By Kimberly Clausing,

Book cover of Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital

What is my book about?

In Open, Clausing argues that Americans, especially those with middle and lower incomes, face stark economic challenges. But these problems do not require us to retreat from the global economy; on the contrary, an open economy overwhelmingly helps. International trade raises living standards, benefits consumers, and makes countries richer. Global capital mobility improves efficiency and innovation. And immigration remains one of America’s greatest strengths, as newcomers play an essential role in economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Closing the door to the benefits of the open economy would cause untold damage for Americans. Instead, Clausing outlines an economic agenda to manage globalization more effectively, presenting strategies to equip workers for a modern economy, modernize tax policy for a global economy, and establish a better partnership between society and the business community. 

The books I picked & why

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What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream

By Edward D. Kleinbard,

Book cover of What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream

Why this book?

Ed Kleinbard was a treasured colleague, a brilliant commentator, and a giant in the field of tax policy. In his final year of life, perhaps fittingly, Kleinbard devoted himself to a book on the role of luck in economic outcomes, which opens with a quote from Stendhal. “Waiting for God to reveal himself, I believe that his prime minister, Chance, governs this sad world just as well.” The book argues that luck, and particularly existential luck (to whom and in what circumstances you are born), are paramount in determining economic outcomes. Within that context, Kleinbard makes a strong case for the role of public insurance in areas like health care, education, and childcare; he also emphasizes the importance of a progressive income tax system. 


The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets

By Thomas Philippon,

Book cover of The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets

Why this book?

Since Adam Smith, economists have understood that market competition is a key ingredient in aligning market outcomes with societal benefits. Yet, market competition has eroded in recent decades in the United States. Among other insights, this book describes the surprising finding that the European economy, by many key metrics, is more competitive than the American economy. The book also discusses the importance of competition for encouraging innovation, economic growth, and widely shared economic prosperity.


Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know

By Leonard E. Burman, Joel Slemrod,

Book cover of Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know

Why this book?

So many features of our modern economy (including trade and technological change) make us better off while creating both winners and losers. Tax policy is important not just for raising revenue to fund civilization, but also for ensuring that such sweeping economic changes have the potential to “lift all boats”. In this book, Burman and Slemrod do an excellent job describing the key features of the American tax system. If every American read this book, we’d have a much better tax policy dialogue. 


Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

By Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan,

Book cover of Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

Why this book?

When I began researching the economics of immigration, I expected to find that my prejudice in favor of immigrants needed more nuance. However, even more than I suspected, the economic literature is resounding in describing the many large economic benefits of immigration. Streets of Gold describes how essential immigration has been to American economic success, and it provides a strong argument for a more open immigration policy. 


Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

By Tracy Kidder, Michael French,

Book cover of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

Why this book?

This isn’t an economic policy book per se, but I can’t resist recommending this book, as it is a page-turning and heartening account of how one person can improve the world. And improving the world, after all, is what good economic policy is all about. In this book, we track Paul Farmer as he builds the charity Partners in Health, which aims to provide healthcare to some of the poorest people in the world. The book is inspiring and compelling, and Tracy Kidder is a gifted storyteller.


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