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.

The books I picked & why

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Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

By G.A. Cohen,

Book cover of Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

Why 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. 

The ABCs of Political Economy: A Modern Approach

By Robin Hahnel,

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

Why 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.

Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

By Jason Hickel,

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

Why 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. 

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

By Mariana Mazzucato,

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

Why 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. 

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

By Ha-Joon Chang,

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

Why 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. 

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Interested in the free market, equality, and capitalism?

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