The best books critiquing free-market fundamentalism

Raoul Martinez Author Of Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future
By Raoul Martinez

Who am I?

It has long been claimed that we face a choice between freedom and equality: that advocates of capitalism favour freedom, while critics prioritise equality. Philosopher Raoul Martinez was never persuaded by this claim, yet it took years of research across a number of disciplines to understand not only how problematic it is, but how foundational to our society and its crises it has become. His journey of discovery culminated in the writing of Creating Freedom, which dismantles this misleading narrative while deepening our understanding of human liberty: the many ways it is subverted and the path to its creation.

I wrote...

Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future

By Raoul Martinez,

Book cover of Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future

What is my book about?

Free markets, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will — the language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and who we want to be. A foundational idea of our civilization, it has long been distorted to justify its opposite: soaring inequality, the erosion of democracy, an irrational criminal justice system, and the suicidal plundering of this planet.

In Creating Freedom a book The Guardian called “Exceptional. This year's essential text” — Martinez argues that the more we understand the limits on our freedom the better placed we are to transcend them.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

Why did I love this book?

Having read Robert Nozick’s philosophical defence of free markets, Anarchy, State and Utopia, in my early twenties, I started searching for a comprehensive rebuttal. With Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, my search came to an end. Cohen — who sadly is no longer with us — was a gifted analytical philosopher who developed his critique of Nozick and other free marketeers over many years. The book delivers a clear and powerful distillation of his thought, which corroborates the intuition felt by many of us that there is something profoundly wrong with the conflation of freedom with free markets. 

By G.A. Cohen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book G. A. Cohen examines the libertarian principle of self-ownership, which says that each person belongs to himself and therefore owes no service or product to anyone else. This principle is used to defend capitalist inequality, which is said to reflect each person's freedom to do as as he wishes with himself. The author argues that self-ownership cannot deliver the freedom it promises to secure, thereby undermining the idea that lovers of freedom should embrace capitalism and the inequality that comes with it. He goes on to show that the standard Marxist condemnation of exploitation implies an endorsement…

Book cover of The ABCs of Political Economy: A Modern Approach

Why did I love this book?

Hahnel’s work should be more well known. A professor of economics who understands the neoclassical approach inside out, he has spent his career not only critiquing mainstream economics but developing rich alternatives, including a sophisticated economic vision that aims to avoid the pitfalls of both free markets and state planning. I’ve chosen The ABCs of Political Economy as it’s a wonderful introduction to the area, offering a broad scope and a sharp critique of orthodox approaches to the economy.

By Robin Hahnel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The ABCs of Political Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This revised edition of ABCs is a lively and accessible introduction to modern political economy. Informed by the work of Marx, Veblen, Kalecki, Robinson, Minsky and other great political economists, Robin Hahnel provides the essential tools needed to understand economic issues today.

Dispelling myths about financial liberalisation, fiscal austerity, globalisation and free markets, ABCs offers a critical perspective on our present system and outlines clear alternatives for the future.

This second edition applies the analytical tools developed to help readers understand the origins of the financial crisis of 2007, the ensuing 'Great Recession', and why government policies in Europe and…

Book cover of Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

Why did I love this book?

An imperative of growth-at-any-cost occupies the heart of mainstream economics. So deeply has society internalised it — on the left and right of the political spectrum — that government policies are routinely evaluated according to their impacts on GDP. The golden rule, drummed into economists throughout their training, is that more economic growth is always a good thing, a clear sign of progress. However, as the ecological crisis demonstrates, never-ending growth of the material economy is destroying the conditions upon which our survival depends. Less is More comprehensively demolishes the cult of growthism and offers a compelling vision of degrowth, in which humanity can flourish within ecological limits. 

By Jason Hickel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Less Is More as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A powerfully disruptive book for disrupted times ... If you're looking for transformative ideas, this book is for you.' KATE RAWORTH, economist and author of Doughnut Economics

A Financial Times Book of the Year
Our planet is in trouble. But how can we reverse the current crisis and create a sustainable future? The answer is: DEGROWTH.

Less is More is the wake-up call we need. By shining a light on ecological breakdown and the system that's causing it, Hickel shows how we can bring our economy back into balance with the living world and build a thriving society for…

Book cover of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

Why did I love this book?

The market bias of neoclassical economics can be summed up by the mantra: private good, public bad. The state, we are told, is inefficient, wasteful, and uncreative, while the market is a paragon of efficiency and innovation, spurred on by the intense pressure of competition. This story, it turns out, is false, and no one has done more to demonstrate this than Mariana Mazzucato. Her work leaves us in no doubt that it is the public sector which takes the biggest risks investing in research and development, driving the most important technological breakthroughs across the economy. 

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Entrepreneurial State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this sharp and controversial expose, Mariana Mazzucato debunks the pervasive myth that the state is a laggard, bureaucratic apparatus at odds with a dynamic private sector. She reveals in detailed case studies, including a riveting chapter on the iPhone, that the opposite is true: the state is, and has been, our boldest and most valuable innovator. Denying this history is leading us down the wrong path. A select few get credit for what is an intensely collective effort, and the US government has started disinvesting from innovation. The repercussions could stunt economic growth and increase inequality. Mazzucato teaches us…

Book cover of Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

Why did I love this book?

Drawing on extensive historical research, economist Ha-Joon Chang shows that today’s wealthiest nations became rich not by following the advice they have long given to poorer nations — embrace free and open markets with minimal state involvement — but by doing precisely the opposite: embracing policies of protectionism and significant state intervention. In admirably clear prose, Chang exposes the hypocrisy of the world’s richest nations and lays out a more promising path of development for the poorer countries of the world. 

By Ha-Joon Chang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It's rare that a book appears with a fresh perspective on world affairs, but renowned economist Ha-Joon Chang has some startlingly original things to say about the future of globalization. In theory, he argues, the world's wealthiest countries and supra-national institutions like the IMF, World Bank and WTO want to see all nations developing into modern industrial societies. In practice, though, those at the top are 'kicking away the ladder' to wealth that they themselves climbed.

Why? Self-interest certainly plays a part. But, more often, rich and powerful governments and institutions are actually being 'Bad Samaritans': their intentions are worthy…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in entrepreneurs, equality, and economics?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about entrepreneurs, equality, and economics.

Entrepreneurs Explore 263 books about entrepreneurs
Equality Explore 55 books about equality
Economics Explore 346 books about economics