Assistance For Self-Education – Top 10 Books On Economics For The Layman

Opinion Piece by Josh L. Ascough

It is no crime for anyone to be ignorant over the subject of Economics; it is a specialised social science after all. However, it always seems to be the loudest voices with ill-conceived “good intentions” who vocalise their opinions on the subject without ever having read a book on the subject (cough cough; The Guardian).

I have spent the last few months, since April 2020, working with the Croydon Constitutionalists in publishing articles dedicated to economic areas; delving into Central Banks, Cronyism, Economic Fallacies, The Gold Standard, Education, Unemployment, Cryptocurrency and hopefully more in the future. It should be noted however, by myself mostly, that the work of attempting to educate the layman cannot just come from myself via the knowledge I have gathered over the time I have been engaged in the subject of Economics, so this article will be a short and sweet one, giving a list of the top 10 books anyone and everyone can acquire to grasp an understanding of Economics. The books in this list have been chosen based on a number of factors; such as affordability and how friendly the books are to first time readers of the subject. You don’t need to acquire all of these books (unless you’re an Economics junkie like myself), as not all of them cover similar areas, however, I’m certain any number of these books will be valuable to the reader.

No: 10 – Free Market Environmentalism by Terry Anderson.

This book is in last place for the simple fact that it is the least affordable on the list, though if you are willing to pay £50+ for a book (that is pennies compared to what I’ve happily paid for other books), then this is a highly worthwhile read. Terry Lee Anderson is a former Executive Director of the Property and Environmental Research Centre and has a number of books relating to Environmentalism. Free Market Environmentalism however gives the reader an introductory, yet highly detailed take on the environmental and economic policies, as well as theory of free market environmentalism. From pollution, land use, to fossil fuels and green energy, Free Market Environmentalism is a worthwhile book for those concerned about environmental issues, and would like to hear the theory from a Environmental Researcher before delving into the purely economic argument.

No: 9 – Chaos Theory by Robert P. Murphy.

Less of a technical economics book, and more based on social and economic theory, Chaos Theory delves into the theoretical concept of Anarcho-Capitalism as a social and economic system, and how such a system would work in practise. Robert P. Murphy is an American Economist based in the tradition of the Austrian School of Economics, and is an Assistant Professor at the Free Market Institute, Texas Tech University. While I am a little biased, subscribing to the Austrian School and this being the book that fully converted me to Anarcho-Capitalism, I must say that the book doesn’t pull any punches; Murphy eloquently explains the theoretical basis of a society absent from the state, with detailed discussions on subjects such as market-based military defence, property protection, courts and prisons, as well as answering common questions, such as the always classic…who will build the roads?

No: 8 – The Economic Point Of View by Israel Kirzner.

The Economic Point of View, like Chaos Theory, focuses less on the technical side of Economics, and focuses more on the history of the epistemology of Economics. Israel Kirzner is a British-born American Economist who holds close theoretical ties to the Austrian School, and is a retired professor of Economics at New York University. The book looks at the history of economic thought in regards to what perspective economics and economists are meant to take; it delves into the different points of view economists have held since the classical economists of the time of David Hume and Adam Smith, to the Austrian understanding of Praxeology; the study and theory of human action based within Apriori knowledge, that all human action is purposeful to the subject. While this can be a difficult book to grasp if you have no experience reading philosophical writings, for those who have studied or are interested in philosophy, this is a great book for gaining an insight into the history and epistemology of Economics.

No: 7 – Liberalism by Ludwig Von Mises.

It took a lot to not put Mises in the number 1 spot or even close, however I need to think critically about what is approachable for those unfamiliar with the social science of Economics, and Mises has always been, and will always be one of the titans of Economics. Liberalism, as the title suggests, takes a look at the history of the Liberal tradition as a political, social, and economic philosophy. Mises delves into the connections and relationship between Capitalism and Liberalism, the problems with Interventionism, Socialism, and other command/planned economic systems, as well as the struggles Liberalism faced during the early 20th century from Socialism and Fascism. Ludwig Von Mises was many things during his life; he was an Austrian Economist, Historian, Logician and Sociologist; he was a champion of Liberalism, and a staunch intellectual fighter for freedom. If you are less interested in technical economics, but more interested in learning about the social science, social values and political arguments for the market economy, this will surely be a strong start.

No: 6 – Fascism vs Capitalism by Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

If there is one thing more irritating than someone calling a Social Democracy “Socialism”, it’s someone calling Capitalism “Fascism”, and Rockwell Jr’s book Fascism vs Capitalism is the perfect book for ending that blending of terms for rhetorical arguments sake, once and for all. Llewellyn Rockwell Jr. is an American author, a Libertarian and a self-classified Anarcho-Capitalist. In addition he is also the founder of the Mises Institute; a non-profit institute dedicated to promoting the Austrian School of Economics. In Fascism vs Capitalism, Rockwell Jr. takes no particular stance for or against Capitalism or Fascism, but lays out the political, social, and economic differences between a Fascist system and a Capitalist system. Rockwell Jr. examines the strongly contrasting systems, while taking note of pro-fascist trends in recent decades, as well as the larger history of the two systems. If you’re not particularly interested in learning about economics, but want to understand what different systems means, this is the perfect book for clarification.

No: 5 – The Income Tax: The Root Of All Evil by Frank Chodorov.

No one likes taxes; Libertarians especially, and most if not all liberty-minded individuals at some point in their lives will say “Taxation is Theft”. However if there’s one tax most liberty-minded individuals oppose the most, it’s the Income Tax, and in his book (the title speaking for itself), Chodorov embarks on explaining to the reader the history of the Income Tax, as well as the general difference morally and economically between indirect taxes such as the Sales Tax; which require a consenting act before the tax can occur, and direct taxes such as the Income Tax; which treat property and the fruits of a man’s labour as loans by the government, and that under direct taxes no man owns his property or his labour. Frank Chodorov was a member of what was referred to as the Old Right, a group of Libertarian thinkers who were against Interventionism and opposed the New Deal brought about by FDR; he was a staunch advocate of free markets, individualism, and peace. The Income Tax: The Root Of All Evil gives the reader both economic and moral arguments against direct taxation as well as social implications of such forms of taxation.

No: 4 – That Which Is Seen And That Which Is Unseen by Frederic Bastiat.

If there was a competition for the most overlooked Economist in history, Frederic Bastiat would be in the top. In his essay, Bastiat explores the unseen outcomes of economic choices and actions; such as the unseen productivity of savings vs the seen productivity of consumption. Frederic Bastiat was a French economist, writer and a member of the French Liberal School, who developed the concept in economics known as Opportunity Cost, and introduced the parable of The Broken Window fallacy. While Bastiat’s essay contains little technical economics, it is a highly important piece of writing which assists the reader in understanding the unseen outcomes of economic choices and actions, as well as give the reader the understanding that all economic activity is subject to trade-offs.

No: 3 – The Origins Of Money by Carl Menger.

Getting into the top 3, Carl Menger’s book, The Origins Of Money, offers exactly what it states. The Origin Of Money gives a detailed economical and historical examinations as to how a form of money is created; dispelling the myth that money is a creation of government, Menger explains the qualities a good requires in order to qualify first as a medium of exchange, and then later as a money, while also delving into the different forms money has taken over the years; from animal skins, copper, tobacco leaves to gold. Carl Menger was an Austrian Economist born in 1840 and was the founder of the Austrian School of Economics, and would late go on to influence the work of Economists such as Ludwig Von Mises and Eugen Von Bohm-Bawerk.

No: 2 – Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

The choice for 2nd and 1st for this list was a difficult one, however, I believe Hazlitt’s book Economics In One Lesson should be placed here for the semantic reason that Hazlitt was not a trained economist; though this lends a strength to the book as there are few technical terms you would find in most economics books, and places more emphasis on explaining concepts and activities within the economic sphere. Economics In One Lesson does an amazing job of explaining fallacies, debunking faulty solutions to problems with assessments on productive solutions, and examining alongside explaining misunderstood concepts. While brining things back to basics with areas such as supply and demand, Hazlitt doesn’t treat the reader as stupid, and treats the reader with respect by explaining why it is understandable that some falsehoods appear more attractive than the truth, while not watering down why these more attractive ideas are incorrect. Henry Hazlitt, born in 1894, was an American Journalist who primarily wrote on the topics of business and economics for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and is a highly regarded figure among Libertarian and Conservative circles.

No: 1 – Principles Of Economics by Carl Menger.

While Economics In One Lesson is friendlier for first time readers of economics, Carl Menger’s book; Principles of Economics, presents the revolutionary theory of where value comes from, which hugely assists any reader whether they be well versed or new with unravelling many areas of economics. Principles Of Economics takes a look at where and how economic goods receive value, the qualities a good requires in order to qualify as an economic good, and the differentiations between consumption goods; referred to as goods of lower order, and capital goods; referred to as goods of higher order. It was in this piece that Carl Menger came up with the economic theory known as Marginal Utility and subjective value for economic goods, leading to what has been called “the Marginal Revolution”. Menger, with his theory of Marginal Utility and the subjectivity of value, rejects the Cost-of-Production Theory of Value as advocated by Adam Smith and David Richardo, as well as rejecting the Labour Theory of Value as promoted by Karl Marx.

While there are many additional books on Economics, I have found these to be the best in terms of affordability and friendliness to first time readers, who are looking to understand Economics from different angles. It is my hope that the reader will take up one or all of these books to begin a journey into understanding not just the science of Economics, but to comprehend just how vast the subject is.

Man himself is the beginning and the end of every economy.” ~ Carl Menger

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