The best books on the free market

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the free market and why they recommend each book.

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The Darwin Economy

By Robert H. Frank,

Book cover of The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good

Frank explains why Darwin is a better guide than Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to the problems the economy raises for almost everyone. The most important market and the only market where almost everyone is a seller instead of a buyer is the labor market. Yet it is the one that Adam Smith got almost completely wrong and Charles Darwin got almost completely right. Frank shows us how the Darwinian process of the labor market makes employers rich at the expense of workers, and how they stitched their advantage into the “Right to Work” (at lower wages) laws.


Who am I?

Even before I became a philosopher I was wondering about everything—life the universe and whatever else Douglas Adams thought was important when he wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. As a philosopher, I’ve been able to spend my life scratching the itch of these questions. When I finally figured them out I wrote The Atheist’s Guide to Reality as an introduction to what science tells us besides that there is no god. In How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories I apply much of that to getting to the bottom of why it’s so hard for us, me included, to really absorb the nature of reality. 


I wrote...

How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories

By Alex Rosenberg,

Book cover of How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories

What is my book about?

To understand something, you need to know its history. Right? Wrong. Narrative history is always, always wrong, not just incomplete or inaccurate but deeply wrong. Our attachment to history as a vehicle for understanding has a long Darwinian pedigree and a genetic basis. Our love of stories is hard-wired. Human evolution improved primate “mind-reading”—the ability to anticipate and explain the behavior of others, whether predators, prey, or cooperators—to get us to the top of the African food chain. It was a useful enough tool in its time, but neuroscience reveals that human culture shaped hard-wired mind-reading from a tool useful for survival into a defective theory of human nature. As science has revealed, we'll only understand history if we don't make it into a story with a plot.

The Shock Doctrine

By Naomi Klein,

Book cover of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

I found Naomi Klein’s argument that situations of shock and violence are seized upon and exploited by politicians and corporations to enact rapid corporate makeovers and privatize public services to be exactly what happened in Detroit when an “emergency manager” appointed by the governor began privatizing public services to the detriment of the city population. I think everyone who reads Klein’s elegant and persuasive explanation of disaster capitalism will see it happening around them.


Who am I?

As I watched abandoned buildings, homes, and factories spread throughout neighborhoods in Detroit while photographers came from everywhere to photograph the ruins, I became fascinated with why we are drawn to ruins, what role such imagery plays in our collective imagination, and how ruins today are different than, say, Greek ruins. I am also interested in the politics behind the ruins and the role of capitalism in creating our declining cities. I have written several books on visual culture and politics, engaging with issues of race, trauma, memory, war, and capitalist globalization.


I wrote...

Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline

By Dora Apel,

Book cover of Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline

What is my book about?

Once the manufacturing powerhouse of the nation, Detroit has become emblematic of failing cities everywhere and the epicenter of an explosive growth in images of urban decay. While others have sung the praises of urban exploration or condemned ruin photography as “ruin porn,” I am interested in why ruin imagery is so popular and seductive. My book considers the ruins of Detroit and other cities as well as the strategies of ruin photographers in managing the fears and anxieties of cultural and economic decline while obscuring its causes (the state and corporations) and the racialized poverty and growing inequality that result. I also explore the expanding network of ruin imagery in advertising, television, video games, and zombie and disaster films.

Economic Sophisms and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen"

By Frédéric Bastiat,

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

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.


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. 

Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

By G.A. Cohen,

Book cover of Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

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. 


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 ABCs of Political Economy

By Robin Hahnel,

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

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.


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.

A Lodging of Wayfaring Men

By Paul Rosenberg,

Book cover of A Lodging of Wayfaring Men

Besides having one of the best book titles ever, this novel immediately draws readers in and is hard to put down; the action is matched by its intelligence. In it, freedom-seekers create a fast-growing, virtual society on the Internet that grows so fast it terrifies governments and their “security.” With no possibility of oversight and control, the System fights to co-opt this cyber-society before it undermines and overwhelms the dominance of corruptocrat governing elites. The free souls in this novel lead us through a clever plot wherein principles of economic freedom, individuality, and justice lead to a free market uncontrolled by tax-hungry government lackeys. Profiled here are a group of individuals determined to transcend paradigms that the human psyche often forms for us, almost autonomically, as a reaction to fear.


Who am I?

As a free man of flesh-and-blood I trust in time-tested verities and traditions; as a spiritual entity I am a man of faith; and as a thinking being I explore in my writing the malleability of consciousness and reality. Through a broad range of experiences I offer images for the minds of readers in novels of a twisted magical realism. I seek the mysteries of God, the beauty of poetry, and the freedom to explore all and everything. I am an American State National who critiques modern society, culture, and politics as an independent scholar who will not be silenced. Awaken, oh human beans, from normative conditioning and screen-gazing complacency!


I wrote...

23 Skiddoo: Way Back Beyond Across the Stars

By Wyman Wicket,

Book cover of 23 Skiddoo: Way Back Beyond Across the Stars

What is my book about?

Through social critique, 23 Skiddoo riffs on the efforts of “the System” to keep mind-controlled citizen-serfs in a perpetual state of dissociation. Scruffy, secret knowledge seeker, Nathan Sos, relies upon a rag-tag “team” of seasoned sleuths, ETs, and one celestial advisor to overcome negative occult forces and their deep state servitors. Along the way, Sos is initiated into esoteric realms; into a new consciousness that taps into the flow of universal “juice”—a spiritual power that debugs “the big questions,” able to free us from our bondage.

Two ET races orient readers to past and present; and alien hybrid abominations demonstrate, trenchantly, the resilience of the creative force, viz., survival, a survival persisting way back beyond across the stars. 

The Machinery of Freedom

By David Friedman,

Book cover of The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism

A key insight of economics is the power of markets to organize human affairs. The Machinery of Freedom takes that insight to the limit. How might society work if even governmental functions were organized using markets? Friedman’s answer will surprise and challenge you. And whether you come away convinced or not, you will come away with a better understanding of markets.


Who am I?

Peter T. Leeson is the author of the award-winning The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates and Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think. He is the Duncan Black Professor of Economics and Law at George Mason University. Big Think counted Peter among “Eight of the World’s Top Young Economists.”


I wrote...

WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird

By Peter T. Leeson,

Book cover of WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird

What is my book about?

This rollicking tour through a museum of the world’s weirdest practices is guaranteed to make you say, “WTF?!” Did you know that “preowned” wives were sold at auction in nineteenth-century England? That today, in Liberia, accused criminals sometimes drink poison to determine their fate? How about the fact that, for 250 years, Italy criminally prosecuted cockroaches and crickets? Do you wonder why? Then this tour is just for you!

From one exhibit to the next, you’ll overhear Leeson’s riotous exchanges with the patrons and learn how to use economic thinking to reveal the hidden sense behind seemingly senseless human behavior—including your own. Leeson shows that far from “irrational” or “accidents of history,” humanity’s most outlandish rituals are ingenious solutions to pressing problems—developed by clever people, driven by incentives, and tailor-made for their time and place. 

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

By Rebecca Henderson,

Book cover of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

If we want to reimagine capitalism as a system that does not destroy the planet and destabilize society, this must be enabled by corporations changing the way that they operate. Henderson’s Reimagining Capitalism gives us some principles for thinking about how to do this. A long-time innovation scholar, Henderson draws on her knowledge about how to succeed at organizational change to propose a more purpose-driven model of corporate action. Using numerous case studies of companies that have (partially) succeeded and those that have failed, she animates a number of principles for change. To start, such a model will require new metrics for social and environmental impact. This would involve more collaborative engagement amongst stakeholders to grow the economic pie and amongst companies to self-regulate in a more sustainable manner.

Particularly refreshing, at the end of the book, Henderson connects the macro conversation about economic and corporate change with a discussion…


Who am I?

Sarah Kaplan is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. She is the author of the bestseller Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—And How to Successfully Transform Them and The 360º Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation, both address the challenges of innovation and organizational change in society. She frequently speaks and appears in the media on topics related to achieving a more inclusive economy and corporate governance reform. Formerly a professor at the Wharton School and a consultant at McKinsey & Company, she earned her PhD at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.


I wrote...

The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-Offs to Transformation

By Sarah Kaplan,

Book cover of The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-Offs to Transformation

What is my book about?

Companies are increasingly facing intense pressures to address stakeholder demands from every direction: consumers want socially responsible products; employees want meaningful work; investors now screen on environmental, social, and governance criteria; “clicktivists” create social media storms over company missteps. CEOs now realize that their companies must be social as well as commercial actors, but stakeholder pressures often create trade-offs with demands to deliver financial performance to shareholders. How can companies respond while avoiding simple “greenwashing” or “pinkwashing”?

In The 360° Corporation, I argue that the shared-value mindset may actually get in the way of progress and I show—in practical steps—how trade-offs, rather than being confusing or problematic, can actually be the source of organizational resilience and transformation. 

Less Is More

By Jason Hickel,

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

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. 


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.

Bad Samaritans

By Ha-Joon Chang,

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

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. 


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.

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