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The Best Econ Books for Your Summer Reading

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We’ve prepared a short list of beach and vacay reading so you don’t have to.

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The best way to start summer is to stock up on the newest book releases and to revisit the classics. Whether you’re concerned about growing populism among the right and left, how to think through humanitarian aid within your church, or the more significant questions of human flourishing, there is something for everyone. And if you’re one of the 900 attendees at Acton University this week, I encourage you to visit the book shop, where you will find the best selection of books and videos for those lazy summer days. If you couldn’t make it to Acton University in person, don’t despair: all these titles are available online.

  1. The Next American Economy: Nation, State, and Markets in an Uncertain World is the latest release by Samuel Gregg. If you’re worried about the growth of government in general or the rise of American political populism in particular, this book is for you. Gregg wades into the populist debates that seem to agree on only one thing—more government is the remedy for what ails us. National conservatives embrace government as the solution to what they view as modern problems of globalization and markets run amok, including the alienation of the working class, the outsourcing of American manufacturing, and the rise of China. Gregg takes these challenges from the New Right seriously rather than dismissing them. He provides a rich historical framework for America’s long affection for tariffs, subsidies, and protectionism, and exposes them as the sources of even more cronyism and the misallocation of resources. America’s economic future depends on freeing market economies, which Gregg argues makes everyone more prosperous. Most importantly, he provides a positive and hopeful view of the future by encouraging us to embrace our commercial republic. You can watch Sam Gregg discuss his book here.
  2. Poverty, Inc. is a documentary produced by the Acton Institute’s Michael Matheson Miller, available on DVD, Netflix, VUDU, and Amazon Prime. I find a way to work this video into any class I teach, whether on international trade, microeconomics, or public policy. It’s a powerful story that helps us understand that good intentions are insufficient. Our Christian call to help the poor is a matter of both heart and We must not unintentionally undermine our well-intended efforts to do good. The video leads us through gut-wrenching stories of the damning unintended consequences of many domestic and international humanitarian actions. Moreover, we’re guided through the vast web of paternalism and cronyism that plagues the development industry. The film has won over 60 awards and received accolades from intellectuals across the ideological spectrum. You can listen to EconTalk host Russ Roberts interview Miller on the documentary here.
  3. The Struggle for a Better World by Peter J. Boettke is a collection of lectures and essays that powerfully articulates a compelling vision for a prosperous society composed of free people afforded equal dignity and open access to the market economy. My favorite quote in the book, “Economic growth is a moral imperative,” is contentious, yet Boettke persuasively demonstrates that the classical liberal project emancipates people from historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion. As the circles of exchange are widened, the market offers agency where it had previously been denied, generating trust, a cosmopolitan order, and human flourishing. As a collection of essays and lectures, you can read this from front to back, which I recommend, or pick and choose chapters of interest. Listen to Professor Boettke discuss his book on the Human Progress Podcast here.
  4. There’s No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truths by David L. Bahnsen is hot off the press and just what we need. This book is a treasury of examples of the economic way of thinking and helpful to both econ specialists and curious generalists. His goal is to define and defend free enterprise, and he argues that one must first understand basic economic truths to grasp the importance of free enterprise. Economics is the study of human action; thus, we must start with a proper understanding of the human person before we can advance human freedom and flourishing. There’s No Free Lunch is now a video series produced by National Review and available on YouTube, where you can watch Bahnsen converse with Father Robert Sirico.
  5. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, first published in 1946, is always worth revisiting. Short chapters and pithy writing make this timeless classic accessible to everyone. Hazlitt begins with the broken window fallacy, so prominent in people’s thinking today about the efficacy of public policy. It’s a short story about a boy who breaks a shop owner’s window, which requires the owner to invest resources to repair it. We must not celebrate the breaking of a window because it encourages production. Instead, we should lament that the store owner must redirect his resources to fix what was broken, because those resources were destined for other ends. We can’t build up economies through destruction. Production isn’t good for its own sake; it’s only beneficial if it creates real value for people in society. In this he distinguishes between good and bad economists: bad economists look only at the direct or seen consequences of a policy, whereas good economists inquire about the unseen consequences and their effects on all groups. This book makes it into my syllabi each year, and I learn something new every time I read it. You can listen to Hazlitt discuss the fallacies that plague contemporary public policy here.

Whether you choose to steal quiet morning hours with a hot cup of coffee or prefer to read with a cold glass of lemonade poolside, I encourage everyone to expand on this starter list, even if you can’t get to every book by summer’s end. Summer may have to end, but enlightenment should be a yearlong adventure.

Anne Bradley

Anne Bradley, Ph.D., is an Acton affiliate scholar, the vice president of Academic Affairs at The Fund for American Studies, and professor of economics at The Institute of World Politics.