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. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Edward D. Kleinbard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What's Luck Got to Do with It? How Smarter Government Can Rescue the American Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The American dream of equal opportunity is in peril. America's economic inequality is shocking, poverty threatens to become a heritable condition, and our healthcare system is crumbling despite ever increasing costs.

In this thought-provoking book, Edward D. Kleinbard demonstrates how the failure to acknowledge the force of brute luck in our material lives exacerbates these crises - leading to warped policy choices that impede genuine equality of opportunity for many Americans. What's Luck Got to Do with It? combines insights from economics, philosophy, and social psychology to argue for government's proper role in addressing the inequity of brute luck. Kleinbard…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Thomas Philippon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Great Reversal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Financial Times Book of the Year
A ProMarket Book of the Year

"Superbly argued and important...Donald Trump is in so many ways a product of the defective capitalism described in The Great Reversal. What the U.S. needs, instead, is another Teddy Roosevelt and his energetic trust-busting. Is that still imaginable? All believers in the virtues of competitive capitalism must hope so."
-Martin Wolf, Financial Times

"In one industry after another...a few companies have grown so large that they have the power to keep prices high and wages low. It's great for those corporations-and bad for almost everyone else."

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 did I love 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. 

By Leonard E. Burman, Joel Slemrod,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Taxes in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Arguments about taxation are among the most heated- no other topic is as influential to the role of government and the distribution of costs and benefits in America. But while understanding of our tax system is of vital importance, the complexity can create confusion. Two of America's leading authorities on taxes, Leonard E. Burman and Joel Slemrod, bring clarity in this concise explanation of how our tax system works, how it affects people and businesses, and how
it might be improved. The book explores what makes a tax system fair, simple, and efficient, why our system falls short, and whether…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Streets of Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Immigration is one of the most fraught, and possibly most misunderstood, topics in American social discourse-yet, in most cases, the things we believe about immigration are based largely on myth, not facts. Using the tools of modern data analysis and ten years of pioneering research, new evidence is provided about the past and present of the American Dream, debunking myths fostered by political opportunism and sentimentalized in family histories, and draw counterintuitive conclusions, including:

* Upward Mobility: Children of immigrants from nearly every country, especially those of poor immigrants, do better economically than children of U.S.-born residents - a pattern…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Tracy Kidder, Michael French,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mountains Beyond Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tracy Kidder's critically acclaimed adult nonfiction work, Mountains Beyond Mountains has been adapted for young people by Michael French. In this young adult edition, readers are introduced to Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard-educated doctor with a self-proclaimed mission to transform healthcare on a global scale. Farmer focuses his attention on some of the world's most impoverished people and uses unconventional ways in which to provide healthcare, to achieve real results and save lives.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the economy, poverty, and immigrants?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the economy, poverty, and immigrants.

The Economy Explore 178 books about the economy
Poverty Explore 80 books about poverty
Immigrants Explore 135 books about immigrants

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Reinventing the Bazaar, Finding Chika, and Toussaint L'Ouverture if you like this list.