The most recommended economic policy books

Who picked these books? Meet our 39 experts.

39 authors created a book list connected to economic policy, and here are their favorite economic policy books.
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Book cover of Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know

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

From my list on big economic policy debates.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Kimberly's book list on big economic policy debates

Kimberly Clausing Why did Kimberly 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 Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Michael D. Watkins Author Of The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking: Leading Your Organization Into the Future

From my list on books for aspiring strategic thinkers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have devoted my career to helping leaders navigate challenging transitions into new roles, build their teams, and transform their organizations. Strategic thinking is a key foundation of my work as an executive coach and advisor at Genesis Advisers and a professor at the IMD Business School. Whether executives are taking new roles or driving large-scale transformations, they must be able to rapidly analyze the context, craft good visions and strategies, and mobilize people to realize them. I try to equip the leaders I work with with the mental frameworks, tools, and skillsets to adapt and succeed in the first 90 days and beyond.

Michael's book list on books for aspiring strategic thinkers

Michael D. Watkins Why did Michael love this book?

I liked that this book highlighted how supposedly tried-and-true approaches to innovation fail to deliver results.

The book’s insights about how to drive radical innovation informed the advice I now give executives about how to approach organizational transformation, starting with an ambitious vision, communicating the “why,” and enlisting great people to go on the journey with them.

It helped me to understand that building organizations to develop disruptive technologies requires leaders to envision things that may sound crazy until they are realized. 

By Peter Thiel, Blake Masters,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Zero to One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building? The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won't make a search engine. If you are copying these guys, you aren't learning from them. It's easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. Every new creation goes from 0 to 1. This book is about how to get there. "Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how". (Elon…


Book cover of Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

Malcolm Rutherford Author Of The Institutionalist Movement in American Economics, 1918-1947: Science and Social Control

From my list on the economic mind in America from 1880 to 1960.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was contemplating a topic for my PhD thesis, it struck me powerfully that American economics was severely under-studied, and that this applied even more so to those associated with “American institutional economics.” My research soon indicated to me that the literature that did exist was lacking in coverage and badly misleading. During my research in archives, I uncovered some real gems—just one example was the archives of the Robert Bookings Graduate School, an institution largely forgotten, but famous at the time. This was exciting and inspired me to continue on to provide a major re-evaluation of American economics in the interwar period.    

Malcolm's book list on the economic mind in America from 1880 to 1960

Malcolm Rutherford Why did Malcolm love this book?

Mary Furner’s book presents what is the common view of progressives as liberal reformers, but there is another side to progressive social science that is less liberal. 

The progressive era social science literature is replete with racism and with arguments about racial and other forms of inferiority derived from eugenics.

The vast amount of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe gave rise to concerns about the undermining of American standards, both biological and economic, including theories of “race suicide.” 

Leonard’s book has generated a great deal of discussion, and while there is no doubt that many progressives displayed eugenic and racist ideas, it needs to be stressed that such views were not limited to progressives, but included many of those with conservative and even free-market views in other areas.     

By Thomas C. Leonard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Illiberal Reformers, Thomas Leonard reexamines the economic progressives whose ideas and reform agenda underwrote the Progressive Era dismantling of laissez-faire and the creation of the regulatory welfare state, which, they believed, would humanize and rationalize industrial capitalism. But not for all. Academic social scientists such as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Edward A. Ross, together with their reform allies in social work, charity, journalism, and law, played a pivotal role in establishing minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws, workmen's compensation, antitrust regulation, and other hallmarks of the regulatory welfare state. But even as they offered uplift to some, economic…


Book cover of The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy

Richard R. Weiner Author Of Sustainable Community Movement Organizations: Solidarity Economies and Rhizomatic Practices

From my list on understanding regimes of law and political economy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Rich Weiner co-edited this featured volume with Francesca Forno. He is a political sociologist with a strong foundation in the history of political and social thought. He has served for twenty-two years as dean of the faculty of arts and sciences. His focus has been on non-statist political organizations and social movements with a perspective of middle-range theorizing enriched by three generations of Frankfurt School critical theory of society.

Richard's book list on understanding regimes of law and political economy

Richard R. Weiner Why did Richard love this book?

Countering a drifting away from an appreciation of the demos, the book encourages us to build a democratic constitutional political economy that renews traditions of egalitarianism and social rights rather than the recent neoliberalism’s imagined market-based orientation of freedom alone.

I like the way the book revives the American constitutional tradition of discourse emphasizing how constraint of the concentration of wealth is necessary to preserve a democratic republic.

By Joseph Fishkin, William E. Forbath,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold call to reclaim an American tradition that argues the Constitution imposes a duty on government to fight oligarchy and ensure broadly shared wealth.

Oligarchy is a threat to the American republic. When too much economic and political power is concentrated in too few hands, we risk losing the "republican form of government" the Constitution requires. Today, courts enforce the Constitution as if it had almost nothing to say about this threat. But as Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath show in this revolutionary retelling of constitutional history, a commitment to prevent oligarchy once stood at the center of a…


Book cover of Peace Economics: A Macroeconomic Primer for Violence-afflicted States

Charles H. Anderton Author Of Principles of Conflict Economics: The Political Economy of War, Terrorism, Genocide, and Peace

From my list on the economics of conflict and peace.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like many people, I am deeply troubled by the death and destruction from violent conflict. When I began my graduate work in economics at Cornell University, I was allowed to apply my economics learning to the problem of war. When I began teaching at Holy Cross College, my colleagues encouraged me to offer courses on the economics of war and peace. After many years of teaching, I compiled Principles of Conflict Economics (with John Carter) to serve as a textbook on economic aspects of conflict. I hope the book might encourage other economics professors and students to learn more about war and how to resolve conflicts nonviolently.

Charles' book list on the economics of conflict and peace

Charles H. Anderton Why did Charles love this book?

I especially like how this book powerfully demonstrates that economists should care deeply about violent conflicts because of the severe harms that violence inflicts on economies (and ultimately people) in both the short- and long-run.

The book also persuasively shows that peace advocates should seriously consider economics in their work because conflict prevention must get the economic policies right to avoid the outbreak (or renewal) of violence.

I felt that the book succeeded wonderfully as a primer by explaining important economic concepts in layperson terms, applying economic concepts to violence and peace issues across a wide range of countries (including in several mini case studies), and highlighting economics policies that promote long-term growth and development, macroeconomic stability, and stable peace.

By Jurgen Brauer, J. Paul Dunne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Creating sound economic policy and a stable macroeconomic framework is essential to societies recovering from violent conflict, yet few practitioners have the background needed to apply economic concepts effectively. To provide practitioners with a concise but broad overview of macroeconomic fundamentals as they touch on violence afflicted states, Brauer and Dunne have created Peace Economics. Filling a gap in the literature on peace design from an economic perspective, Peace Economics extends beyond economic principles into the wider realm of social reconstitution, social contract, and social capital in the hopes of helping practitioners build a more stable peace. Peace Economics is…


Book cover of Milton Friedman: Contributions to Economics and Public Policy

Richard Burdekin Author Of China's Monetary Challenges: Past Experiences and Future Prospects

From my list on if you didn’t think money matters.

Why am I passionate about this?

Long before I studied economics, I remember being told in church that “money is the root of all evil.” Much later, when I was interviewing for my first professor-level position, I remember one of the interviewers saying, “I suppose everyone is interested in money.” We are not talking here about a fixation on accumulating money, but rather understanding the profound impact monetary policy has upon everyone in society. These readings show how pervasive the effects of bad monetary policy can be and how important it is to keep track of what is going on. Start with the first two chapters of Friedman’s Money Mischief and see if you can stop! 

Richard's book list on if you didn’t think money matters

Richard Burdekin Why did Richard love this book?

The enduring impact of Milton Friedman and his writings is ably captured in this volume.

Part II focuses on his monetary contributions and relates his writings to the policy actions of the Federal Reserve and many other recent and older episodes. Among these chapters, James Lothian offers a particularly compelling account of not only the evolution of Friedman’s work but also its impact on those around him. Eugene Lerner connects his Friedman-inspired early Civil War research to monetary developments after the global financial crisis in 2008. 

Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas makes a particularly revealing personal observation: “Friedman has no interest at all in what side you are on. You are expected to articulate a view of the effects of policies. How will it work? Who gains? Who loses?”

By Robert A. Cord (editor), J. Daniel Hammond (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Milton Friedman is widely regarded as one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century. Although he made many important contributions to both economic theory and policy - most clearly demonstrated by his development of and support for monetarism - he was also active in various spheres of public policy, where he more often than not pursued his championing of the free market and liberty.

This volume assesses the importance of the full range of Friedman's ideas, from his work on methodology in economics, his highly innovative consumption theory, and his extensive research on monetary economics, to his views…


Book cover of Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World

Ken Wilcox Author Of Leading Through Culture: How Real Leaders Create Cultures That Motivate People to Achieve Great Things

From Ken's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Banker Sinologist Anthropologist Humanist Humorist

Ken's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Ken Wilcox Why did Ken love this book?

This was my second favorite book. Ms. Allen's book is all about the various ways in which the Chinese Communist Party seeks to influence the course of events in other countries, especially in the U.S.

It is insightful and incredible. You will definitely be surprised. I believe that the information she shares is accurate, based on the extent of her research, my own personal experience, and the extent to which her claims have been corroborated by other researchers who have been writing on this topic in the past few years. In my view, her book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand China in the context of geopolitics in the 21st century. 


By Bethany Allen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Allen has shown remarkable courage in writing this . . . A disturbing, insightful book about China's hidden, multitiered war-and how the West can fight back' Kirkus Reviews

The remarkable story of China's two-decade quest for global dominance.

For several decades China's ascendancy has been supported by an astonishingly broad and deep portfolio of quiet coercion. Stories of the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian reach are breathtaking - the gagging of sports stars and huge Western brands; Hollywood self-censorship; infrastructure deals in exchange for political loyalty in multilateral organizations; and of course - communications firms. But these are just the most…


Book cover of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers

Sam Roggeveen Author Of The Echidna Strategy: Australia's Search for Power and Peace

From my list on understand Asia’s new power politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

A confession: I don’t read a great many books anymore, especially about the region and issue that I focus on. My preferred format for analysis of contemporary events is the long essay supplemented by social media and op-eds. So, rather than offer a selection ripped from today’s Asia headlines, I’ve tried to choose books that I read years (sometimes decades) ago and which stuck with me, books that formed the foundations for my intellectual development, or which just surprised me with their novelty and contrarianism. 

Sam's book list on understand Asia’s new power politics

Sam Roggeveen Why did Sam love this book?

It predates the rise of China’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, but remains an indispensable guide to how China’s Communist Party works, partly through the author’s years of in-country experience and careful reporting but also through simple comparisons.

For example, to understand the reach of the Party’s Organization Department, imagine a single American institution that chooses the Cabinet, the members of the Supreme Court, the CEOs of big companies, the editors of the major newspapers, the heads of think tanks, and much more. 

By Richard McGregor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A masterful depiction of the party today. . . . McGregor illuminates the most important of the contradictions and paradoxes. . . . An entertaining and insightful portrait of China’s secretive rulers.” —The Economist

“Few outsiders have any realistic sense of the innards, motives, rivalries, and fears of the Chinese Communist leadership. But we all know much more than before, thanks to Richard McGregor’s illuminating and richly-textured look at the people in charge of China’s political machinery. . . . Invaluable.” — James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic

In this provocative and illuminating account, Financial Times reporter Richard McGregor…


Book cover of The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics

Tanya Jakimow Author Of Susceptibility in Development: Micropolitics of Local Development in India and Indonesia

From my list on anthropology of development.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an anthropologist of development who has conducted ethnographic research in India, Indonesia, and more recently, Australia. Throughout my career I have grappled with questions of how power works in development, particularly in and through processes of self-making. I seek new theoretical tools to examine these questions, but always grounded in the realities of the everyday. I came of age when post-development critiques were dominant, but both my idealism and cynicism have been tempered by working alongside local development actors. In my work I try to give readers a sympathetic portrait of their lives, beliefs, and hopes, and how these shape practices, relationships, and consequences of ‘development’. 

Tanya's book list on anthropology of development

Tanya Jakimow Why did Tanya love this book?

The Will to Improve is most celebrated for its explanation of ‘rendering technical’: the ways complex, political factors contributing to poverty are reduced to those amenable to technical intervention.

But I have found Tania Li’s concept of ‘trustee’ the most useful in my work on local development actors: understanding how they come to take on the role of trustee, their desire to ‘improve’ others, and the prickly subjects that resist their efforts.

Li traces the ‘will to improve’ through 200 years of Indonesian history, but it is most powerfully elucidated through her rich ethnographic description from the province of Sulawesi.

Her analysis weaves together Marx, Foucault, and Gramsci, showing how theory can illuminate description. It is a masterclass in storytelling and the power of theory. 

By Tania Murray Li,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Will to Improve as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Will to Improve is a remarkable account of development in action. Focusing on attempts to improve landscapes and livelihoods in Indonesia, Tania Murray Li carefully exposes the practices that enable experts to diagnose problems and devise interventions, and the agency of people whose conduct is targeted for reform. Deftly integrating theory, ethnography, and history, she illuminates the work of colonial officials and missionaries; specialists in agriculture, hygiene, and credit; and political activists with their own schemes for guiding villagers toward better ways of life. She examines donor-funded initiatives that seek to integrate conservation with development through the participation of…


Book cover of From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South 1938-1980

Richard Paul Author Of We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program

From my list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a long-time public radio documentary producer who now creates podcasts and conducts research for Smithsonian traveling exhibitions. After producing five documentaries on various sociological aspects of the space program, I was named the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Verville Fellow in Space History in 2014. My 2010 documentary Race and the Space Race (narrated by Mae Jemison) was the first full-length exploration of the nexus between civil rights and the space program, and the Fellowship allowed me to expand the story into a book. 

Richard's book list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program

Richard Paul Why did Richard love this book?

While researching a documentary, I tripped over an interview with George Reedy, White House press secretary from 1964-65.

Reedy had also worked in Pres. Johnson’s Senate office, and he spoke about how thirteen days after the Sputnik launch, he and an aide to Alabama Senator Lister Hill plotted to use the space program to transform the South. This book fleshes out much of that story. While it primarily delves into the economic development and transformation of the South, it also provides valuable insights into Johnson’s tenure as a senator.

The book highlights how Johnson used his political acumen to advocate for policies that would improve the economic conditions of his region. He understood the importance of federal investment in infrastructure, education, and healthcare to lift the region out of poverty.

By Bruce J. Schulman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt investigates the effects of federal policy on the American South from 1938 until 1980 and charts the close relationship between federal efforts to reform the South and the evolution of activist government in the modern United States. Decrying the South's economic backwardness and political conservatism, the Roosevelt Administration launched a series of programs to reorder the Southern economy in the 1930s. After 1950, however, the social welfare state had been replaced by the national security state as the South's principal benefactor. Bruce J. Schulman contrasts the diminished role of national welfare initiatives in the postwar…