The best books on Libertarianism

Jeffrey A. Miron Author Of Libertarianism, from A to Z
By Jeffrey A. Miron

Who am I?

Jeffrey Miron has taught a popular course on libertarian principles at Harvard for 17 years, explaining how to apply libertarianism to economic and social affairs. Miron also serves as the Vice President for Research at the libertarian Cato Institute. Miron has a consistent track record of defending libertarian policies, such as the legalization of all drugs, vastly expanded legal immigration (perhaps to the point of open borders), drastically reduced government expenditure, and substantial deregulation.

I wrote...

Libertarianism, from A to Z

By Jeffrey A. Miron,

Book cover of Libertarianism, from A to Z

What is my book about?

Libertarianism principles seem basic enough – keep government out of boardrooms, bedrooms, and wallets, and let markets work the way they should. But what reasoning justifies those stances, and how can they be elucidated clearly and applied consistently?

In Libertarianism, from A to Z, acclaimed Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron set the record straight with a dictionary that takes the reader beyond the mere surface of libertarian thought to reveal the philosophy’s underlying logic. 

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The books I picked & why

Capitalism and Freedom

By Milton Friedman,

Book cover of Capitalism and Freedom

Why did I love this book?

Capitalism and Freedom is the greatest exposition of the consequential case for libertarianism. In other words, Milton Friedman’s case for libertarian policies rests not on moral assumptions or “natural” rights but on showing that capitalism is important because it has positive consequences – it enables human prosperity and flourishment.

Perhaps as importantly, Capitalism and Freedom shows that economic freedom is a necessary condition not just for economic prosperity but for personal and political freedom. Thus, free markets are not only compatible with democracy (contra what many people claim), but a necessary condition for protecting democracy and personal freedoms.

This book’s outlook is probably the closest to the one articulated in my book. It is also the most recent one on the list, making it an easy read.

By Milton Friedman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of TIME magazine's All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books
One of Times Literary Supplement's Hundred Most Influential Books Since the War
One of National Review's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Century
One of Intercollegiate Studies Institute's 50 Best Books of the 20th Century How can we benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat it poses to individual freedom? In this classic book, Milton Friedman provides the definitive statement of an immensely influential economic philosophy--one in which competitive capitalism serves as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom.

First published…

The Road to Serfdom

By F. A. Hayek, Bruce Caldwell (editor),

Book cover of The Road to Serfdom

Why did I love this book?

Hayek is an exponent of the Austrian School, a tradition that has deeply influenced many libertarians. The Road to Serfdom was a best-seller exposition of classic liberal and libertarian ideas. Written during WWII, at a time when socialism and central planning were fashionable, Hayek warns policymakers of the danger of tyranny stemming from government control and central planning. In a sense, he anticipates Friedman’s claims that central planning and democracy were incompatible.

Many criticize Hayek’s warnings as exaggerated: the latter part of the 20th century witnessed substantial growth in Western states’ budgets, transfers, and regulations, but no lapse into outright tyranny. Nevertheless, the government’s expanded reach over this period has limited freedom in many dimensions, with recent proposals from the right and left both threatening further harm. Thus Hayek’s predictions are not only a timeless and concise libertarian exposition of the role of government and the strengths of free markets but also a warning that freedom advocates must remain constantly on guard.

By F. A. Hayek, Bruce Caldwell (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Road to Serfdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, "The Road to Serfdom" has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in 1944 - when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program - "The Road to Serfdom" was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would lead not to a utopia but…

Book cover of Economic Sophisms and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen"

Why did I love this book?

Bastiat was a 19th-century French economist, writer, and politician. Economic Sophisms is a collection of short and enjoyable essays illustrating the case for free trade and attacking some economic misconceptions. Many of the essays’ themes and arguments are relevant today, and Bastiat’s critiques of big government are often witty.

In one essay, Bastiat presents a “candlemakers petition” to the parliament for protection against the unfair competition of sunlight, which was flooding the market with a superior product at virtually zero price. Modern critiques of zero price “monopolists” (e.g., Facebook or Google) should take note!

In What is Seen and Not Seen Bastiat introduces the “parable of the broken window” to show that economic resources are fundamentally scarce: resources expended on one activity are not available for others. Centuries later, many policymakers are yet to grasp this insight.

By Frédéric Bastiat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Economic Sophisms and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen" as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This volume, the third in our Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, includes two of Bastiat’s best-known works, the collected Economic Sophisms and the pamphlet What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. We are publishing here for the first time in English the Third Series of Economic Sophisms, which Bastiat had planned but died before he could complete the project.

Both Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen share similar stylistic features and were written with much the same purpose in mind, to disabuse people of misperceptions they might have had about the benefits of free…

Book cover of The Wealth of Nations

Why did I love this book?

This book offers the first detailed defense of using free markets, rather than government, to allocate resources – a core tenet of libertarianism. Smith addresses numerous examples, but his most fundamental insight is that markets, rather than being guided by orders or commands from government, operate as if “an invisible hand” is matching buyers and sellers, leading to an outcome that no planner could have achieved.

Today many people have heard about the law of supply and demand. But the idea that markets, under no one’s authority, could organize production – let alone do it better than if someone had planned it – is deeply counterintuitive. Smith’s explanation for how markets achieve this feat was groundbreaking.

Readers should probably focus on the first chapters of Book I to see Smith’s account of the division of labor and markets.

By Adam Smith,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Wealth of Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, the book offers one of the world's first collected descriptions of what builds nations' wealth, and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labour, productivity, and free markets.

Book cover of Second Treatise on Government

Why did I love this book?

Locke’s Second Treatise on Government is the first book to present a coherent liberal theory of the State. Many of its core ideas are now common-sense: that the legitimate end of government is to preserve and enlarge the freedom of its subjects; that sovereigns should be held accountable to the law; and that individuals have a natural right to life, liberty, and property even in the absence of government.

This is a short and readable book that reminds us how much the liberal tradition initiated by Locke is, at least rhetorically, embedded in much of contemporary discourse on democracy and politics.

This book is also of paramount importance to libertarians because it presents one of the first articulated arguments for private property as a means to create wealth.

By John Locke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Second Treatise on Government as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke has been called the “Father of Liberalism”. Following in the tradition of Sir Francis Bacon, he is one of the first British empiricists, which emphasizes the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas. His work would greatly influence other prominent political and literary figures including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the founding fathers of the United States of America. Contained here in this volume is one of his most influential writings, the “Second Treatise of Government”. The “Second Treatise” is concerned with five specific themes in relation to government. Firstly Locke defines a state…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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