What is so often lacking in American politics is a sense of history. Many politicians, and most disastrously a lot of presidents, seem to think that they can repeatedly "begin the world over again" irrespective of what has happened before. But history matters. Thus, Paul Johnson's Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties should be on any president's reading list.
Modern Times provides an incisive and readable portrait of world events since World War I, a cataclysmic tableau that should be understood by anyone hoping to lead the nation toward the 21st century. What makes Johnson's work particularly compelling is his devastating critique of both relativism and statism. The 20th century has been the "age of politics," he writes, and the grand experiment has proved to be a disastrous failure. As he observes: "The state had proved itself an insatiable spender, an unrivalled waster. Indeed, in the twentieth century it had also proved itself the great killer of all time." Modern Times might help officials at all levels learn not to look to politics—and ever newer and more expensive government programs—as the solution to today's problems.
What should government do? For the answer to this question the president should peruse Charles Murray's In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government. Rather than provide a laundry list of "good" and "bad" programs, Murray delves deeper, arguing that the only appropriate role of the state is to promote people's "pursuit of happiness," that is, he writes, to enable them "to go about the business of being human beings as wisely and fully as they could." That, he finds, is most likely to occur if the government does not interfere with private economic and social interaction, especially the operation of the "little platoons" so active in America.
Indeed, he concludes that government social policy has to be ultimately judged by its impact on the functioning of private society. The state has some duty to help the "little platoons" by, for instance, preventing crime, but, Murray argues, there must be a "stopping point" beyond which government does not try to supplant private efforts. He rightly concludes that people's "satisfaction depends crucially on being left important things over which we take trouble," something recent Congresses and presidents have increasingly failed to recognize.
Also on the president's bedstand should be Richard John Neuhaus's The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. The role of religion in the United States is a controversial one; some of the bitterest issues that a president confronts involve church-state relations. Neuhaus's thoughtful analysis should help the reader avoid both extremes: the sterile, even dangerous "naked public square," with religion banned from communal life, and the incestuous, equally dangerous union of church and state, with clerics and politicians allied for any number of dubious ends. What we need, Neuhaus argues, is a rearticulation of "the religious base of the democratic experiment." The Naked Public Square will help the president understand how he can simultaneously welcome religious values in the public debate and resist clerics who reach for the levers of power.
Contributing Editor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington and Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics. He formerly served as a special assistant to President Reagan.
Robert L. Bartley
Every president for at least two decades has been blindsided by powerful international economic forces that few of us begin to comprehend and that most of us don't even begin to recognize. To start to grasp the real meanings of global interdependence, a president ought to read Kenichi Ohmae's The Borderless World (Harper Business/HarperCollins, 1990) and Walter Wriston's The Twilight of Sovereignty (Scribner's, 1992). For a sense of what can happen if you get these matters wrong, he could dip back into the interwar period for John Maynard Keynes's The Economic Consequences of the Peace (London: Macmillan, 1920). And he ought to ask his new treasury secretary to read all of them twice.
Robert L. Bartley is the editor of The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Seven Fat Years: And How to Do It Again (The Free Press).
Unless Frank Zappa experiences an unexpected electoral surge, it looks like our next president will need guidance not only in public policy but in the style of governance. No one personifies passionate and principled leadership better than Václáv Havel, and his Summer Meditations should top the president-elect's reading list.
Havel is the most heroic political leader to emerge on the world stage in recent years, and his life is an example of what it means to stand for something. His elegant and dignified leadership style stands in stark contrast to the frenzied arm waving and demagoguery that dominate American politics.
"Though my heart may be left of centre," Havel declares, "I have always known that the only economic system that works is a market economy," for "it is the only one that reflects the nature of life itself."
Yet the task of building a "state of ideas" is not one of ideology, Havel insists. "Something more is necessary. For the sake of simplicity, it might be called spirit. Or feeling. Or conscience." Havel's introspections could go far in helping our own president rediscover the principles and spirit that made our nation great.
Turning to policy, no issue bodes more ominously than the future of American education. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the most brazen example outside China of unreconstructed socialism in the world today is America's public-school system. The primary victims are millions of low-income youngsters who are consigned to inner-city educational cesspools and lack access to the most basic skills necessary for responsible citizenship and productive livelihoods.
John Chubb and Terry Moe's Politics, Markets & America's Schools establishes convincingly that more spending and superficial tinkering will not cure the ails of public schooling. Rather, the flaws are inherent in a highly bureaucratic system driven not by consumer satisfaction but by special-interest politics. Nothing less than full-scale market competition and a transfer of power from bureaucrats to parents, Chubb and Moe demonstrate, will accomplish the goal of equal and high-quality educational opportunities.
But let's get real. We're dealing here with an American president. So my go-for-broke selection is The Little Red Hen, the perfect presidential bedtime story that says it all. Ms. Hen, one of the great feminist heroes in popular literature, asks her barnyard neighbors to help her harvest wheat and bake bread. "Not I!" they all respond. But in the end, they all want to share in the fruits of Hen's labor. Think again, cackles the red-feathered fowl.
Hen rivals Charles Murray's works as a scathing indictment of the welfare state and offers a stirring moral defense of free trade and private property. Eight-year-old writer and paleontologist Evan Bolick told me he was persuaded. Maybe it will persuade a president too.
Clint Bolick is litigation director at the Institute for Justice in Washington and author of the forthcoming Grass Roots Tyranny and the Limits of Federalism.
We may well never again have a president as plain-spoken, as unaffected, and as little disposed to bend with the winds (and whims) of fashion as Harry Truman, whose (very likely) definitive biography has been written by David McCullough. Truman (Simon & Schuster, 1992) is old-fashioned history, meaning that it tells us what happened, when, why, and where, and leaves to our own ruminations the deeper meanings of happenings. Truman's Fair Deal liberalism may not be everyone's idea of the perfect political philosophy, but it was grounded on a consistent theory of government as enunciated by an honest man.
Rising from provincialism to competence in personal and professional life, avoiding the taint of his machine-politics sponsors, studying the issues and concluding what by his lights was the best course, Truman did what he believed needed doing, growing nobly into the office that was thrust upon him. He was sometimes gawky in his bluntness, but he stood for something and Americans knew where we stood with him. To him, even before his victory in the great upset of all time, polls were nonsense, all save the poll on election day. To read Truman is to see what we're missing in the White House.
If we are not to be gobbled up entirely by an ever-growing fraction of the American people who are somehow on the dole, we had best get a handle both on expenditures in the "entitlements" category and on the reasoning, or lack thereof, that got us into this mess in the first place. No one has better analyzed the matter than Charles Murray, whose Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 (Basic Books, 1984) puts firmly into perspective the gross social (as well as economic) effects of the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson and its, and its successors', perhaps well-intentioned but nonetheless woeful enlargement of the proto-welfare state. A decade of intelligent analyses along similar lines has subsequently emerged; all owe their initial insights to Losing Ground.
The tragedy of what was Yugoslavia; the splintering of what was the Soviet Union; the halving of Czechoslovakia; the francophone separatism in Canada; tribalism in black Africa; and a score of other recent and hundreds of long-standing ethnic and racial conflicts worldwide demonstrate the bankruptcy of the notion of multiculturalism. Mexican irredentism in our own Southwest, the on-going crisis of Haitians seeking asylum in the United States, and the craze for Afrocentric "education," to name just a few domestic instances, signal our own suicidal path if we don't snap out of the mentality that embodies the banal truism that "we're a nation of immigrants so no limits on immigration are just."
Jean Raspail's The Camp of the Saints (Scribner's, 1975, originally published in French in 1973, English translation by Norman Shapiro) creates in fiction a chilling dilemma: What will the advanced portion of the world do when the Third World claims a "right" to occupy Western lands without limit? On the one horn of this dilemma is the seeming cruelty of our recent policy of turning away the Haitians; on the other, to use words from the book jacket itself, is "the end of the white world."
Romantic sentimentality notwithstanding, our current policy merely advances the date by which we will be obliged to choose. The Camp of the Saints confronts our president for the mid-1990s with the bitter alternatives. At present our immigration "policy" is inertial and our internal posture vis à vis bilingualism and multiculturalism are morosely tepid.
Contributing Editor David Brudnoy is New England's leading nighttime radio talk host (WBZ-AM) and a commentator on the region's leading TV station (WCVB-TV).
James M. Buchanan
My recommended selection emerges from an initial concentration on the issues that the incoming president in 1993 needs to understand. These issues are, first, the overextension of politics and the apparently inexorable tendencies for this extension to proceed unchecked. Although his model of politics is not fully congruent with modern public choice, Anthony de Jasay's book, The State (Blackwell, 1985) does capture the dynamics of government growth in this century. I recommend this book as a precautionary tale.
A more specific issue, which is itself derivative from the larger one, is the apparent inability of post-Keynesian Western democracies to escape from the regime of continuous, and accelerating, budget deficits. Cole Brembeck's Congress, Human Nature, and the Federal Debt (Praeger, 1991) discusses the origins, the implications, and the consequences of the deficit regime.
Any appreciation of the overreaching of politics must be accompanied by an understanding of how markets can provide nonpoliticized alternative solutions, even if, in many cases, organizational judgments must be made by pragmatic comparisons between an imperfect politics and an imperfect market. David Friedman's short book, The Machinery of Freedom (first edition, Harper, 1973; second edition, Open Court Press, 1989), should be required reading for all those whose natural proclivity is to turn to government as the solution. The president must, somehow, absorb Ronald Reagan's basic vision that politics is the problem, not the solution.
James M. Buchanan is Harris University Professor at George Mason University and the 1986 Nobel laureate in economics.
Craig M. Collins
Political "lifers" like Bush and Clinton don't need to read. Their ambition is to win elections. Having won, they do not need to know more.
To avoid dissolving completely into cynicism, however, I try to believe that mixed up with their selfish motives are traces of a desire to further the public good—so long as it doesn't hurt them politically. For those rare occasions when they have an opportunity to do good, I suggest they read Richard Posner's Economic Analysis of the Law so they will know what to do. Posner minutely details the complex interconnectedness of laws and their many unintended effects.
Richard Epstein's Takings shows how we have socialized private property into near extinction. He generally concludes this was not a good thing.
Finally, Julian Simon's The Economic Consequences of Immigration shows that it was no accident that vigorous economic growth in this country occurred coincident with a significant influx of immigrants.
Teaching politicians the right thing to do is not the same as convincing them to do it. They well know their interests are vested in the present system of buying votes by reallocating property. For that to change, the public must first become aware of the corrupting effect of this system. This public awareness will not depend on which books the president reads. It will depend on which books the rest of us read.
Craig M. Collins, a former REASON assistant editor, is an attorney in Santa Monica, California, specializing in property law.
The problem of modern democratic government is not simply a tendency to bad policy; it is also that most modern politicians do not have a sufficient understanding of or respect for democratic institutions and procedures. A deeper understanding of the principles of limited government goes hand in hand with better policy. Hence what is most needed is remedial reading.
It may be wildly naive to suppose that, at the threshold of the Oval Office, our nation's pre-eminent political figure can be taught anything meaningful, but here goes. My first book is what I call "the owner's manual to the U.S. Constitution," The Federalist. Why not? Although it is true that these essays were the product of a partisan campaign, and are written in an unfamiliar idiom, there is nevertheless a carefully worked out theory of how our constitutional form of government should work. A president will learn as much from Publius's errors of judgment as from his wisdom. The Federalist shines especially brightly on the current problems of separation of powers, legislative and executive prerogative, and judicial review.
My second recommendation is Harvey C. Mansfield Jr.'s recent collection titled America's Constitutional Soul (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991). In addition to Mansfield's always learned reflections on the state of constitutionalism and party politics in America, there are chapters analyzing the last four presidential elections, from which a president will learn that the distinction between politics and policy, between campaigning and governing, is false and pernicious. Mansfield's serious treatment of and obvious respect for the political ability and achievements of Ronald Reagan are a nice antidote to the standard cliches against Reagan.
My third recommendation is Jeremy Rabkin's Judicial Compulsions: How Public Law Distorts Public Policy (Basic Books, 1989). This may seem like an odd or narrow pick for a president's short reading list. But Judicial Compulsions focuses attention on a major crisis within our government that isn't receiving adequate attention and that impinges directly on a president's ability to administer the executive branch. Administrative law has become subject to a regime of judicial activism directed chiefly by special-interest litigation. What this means is that neither the executive branch nor the legislative branch is really in control of policy. The point is, limited government and the rule of law require a properly limited judiciary, and the president who understands this and sets out to tame the judiciary will render the republic a noble service. And the judiciary will probably be easier to tame than Congress.
Contributing Editor Steven Hayward is the research and publications director of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francicso.
Thomas W. Hazlett
In the 1988 V.P. debate an uppity journalist asked J. Danforth Quayle what recent book he had enjoyed reading. A bit of tension ensued, as America experienced a collective moment of embarrassment. To his staff's credit, Quayle had the name of some erudite tome at the ready. This put that pipsqueak reporter in his place (especially since the debate format allowed no time-out in which to test the senator's comprehension coefficient). While I have no staff (not counting my laptop), I have been given advance warning of the question: Which three marvelous books should the new president read?
1. Hedrick Smith's The Power Game (1989). This artistic hunk of applied political science describes the sources and uses of political clout in Washington, revealing everything Jimmy Carter should have known but was afraid to ask about the national government. Those boneheads who believe that the pols are crazy and that things get screwed up because we don't have enough smart, good citizens in Washington simply don't see what Hedrick Smith knows: Things happen in government for good reason (even if the results for the lowly American taxpayers are ugly).
"Some like to say that the power game is an unpredictable game of chance and improvisation," writes the New York Times reporter. "But most of the time politics is about as casual and offhand as the well-practiced triple flips of an Olympic high diver." Filled with insights (example: "Congress has a stake in the inefficiency of federal bureaucrats: It lets their staffs become important fixers…."), this volume is an excellent substitute for a Ph.D. at the Kennedy School for a busy chief executive on the go.
2. Ithiel de Sola Pool's Technologies of Freedom (1984). A masterful treatise on the evolution of free speech, this book explains how the opportunities for greater liberty afforded by the revolution in computer intelligence may be sabotaged by the political ghosts of censorship past. The American tradition broke historic new ground in moving firmly away from the stultification of a government-licensed press, yet our First Amendment rights have gone into retreat with the emerging electronic communications media.
This uncivil rejection of our libertarian values is all the more ironic in light of the immense possibilities for genuinely democratic free speech that the new technology has given us. Our transition from a press of newsprint to one of electronics is now a century along; computer technologies are stupendously accelerating the passage. Yet our law and institutions have strangely afforded smaller scope for freedom to the newer forms of speech than to the old, a delineation that makes poor sense legally and no sense technically. (It makes perfect sense politically; see Hedrick Smith, above.) Pool, the late, famous professor of political science at MIT, reminds us of our magnificent heritage as the world's freest speakers nestled happily under the protections of the Constitution's First Amendment. Upholding such, Mr. President, will be your job.
3. Robert Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson (either of the two volumes out now, or of the two due out soon). Caro's due diligence turned up the dirt on President Johnson, years after the legends (promulgated by the fearsome commander-in-chief himself) had been swallowed whole by journalists and biographers alike. Read Caro on Johnson and you will know a scoundrel. In glorious detail and riveting prose. Yeccccckkkkk! An odious perversion of public power on display for all the world to see. Can this massive dose of posthumous public shame inoculate our future president from hubris disease? Let us hope. Please read Robert Caro and remember: Someone will be watching. Closely.
Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett teaches economics and public policy at the University of California, Davis.
David R. Henderson
Mr. President, you need three main things from your reading. First is a sense of what people's rights are and how a just government should treat them. Second is a basic understanding of how the world works. Third is a perspective on the 1980s. The following list meets the bill, to the extent any three books can.
1. Richard Epstein, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. This book by a law professor starts from each person's right to his or her own body and ends up showing, on that basis, that government has no right to take people's property without just compensation. Epstein then shows, with flair and buzzsaw logic, that the Fifth Amendment's ban on takings without just compensation invalidates most zoning laws, all price controls, "progressive" taxation, and most government spending.
2. Paul Heyne, The Economic Way of Thinking. Because understanding how the world works requires a basic understanding of economics, I recommend this introductory textbook. It lays out beautifully how cooperation among people works in a free-market economy. It gives you a basic understanding of how a price system works, and works magnificently, to turn conflict into harmony. Among other things, Heyne's book shows why free trade makes both sides better off and how price controls cause destruction.
3. William A. Niskanen, Reaganomics. You cannot understand the 1980s without understanding what economic policies were and what effects these policies had. Niskanen, even though a Reagan partisan, gives the most even-handed treatment of Reagan's economic policies available. Indeed, Herb Stein, no partisan of Reagan himself, called Niskanen's book, "a lucid analysis of Reagan's economics by that rare creature, an objective insider." Lou Cannon, a "liberal" Washington Post columnist, called Niskanen's book, "a definitive and notably objective account of administration economic policy." Niskanen tells the good—some budget cuts, large cuts in marginal tax rates, and a substantial reduction in inflation—along with the bad—failure to get spending under control, huge deficits (caused by the failure to control spending), and protectionist trade policies. Niskanen also gives a sense of the relative importance of various economic issues.
Contributing Editor David R. Henderson is an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and editor of The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics (forthcoming in 1993). He was previously a senior economist with President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers.
The health of the economy will be the most important issue the next president will address. Effective economic policy is no longer a purely domestic matter. It requires a global view.
Economists Richard McKenzie and Dwight Lee recognize this. In Quicksilver Capital: How the Rapid Movement of Wealth Has Changed the World, they say that the information revolution allows nations, not just local regions, to compete for investments in capital and labor.
Fifty years ago, F. A. Hayek argued that central planners never possess enough information to efficiently direct economic activity. Back then, when planners tightened their grip on entrepreneurs and employees, those people suffered. Now, say McKenzie and Lee, capital can (and does) move faster than central planners can try to manipulate it. Policy makers who try to increase taxes and regulations will find their capital bases moving to more hospitable climes. The authors also insist that, so long as government remains intrusive, no amount of "investment" in worker retraining and public works can prevent private capital from fleeing. There's plenty here for either George Bush or Bill Clinton to chew on.
The president will also face a nation with decaying cities, disintegrating families, and a breakdown of what European liberals call "civil society"—the informal network of neighborhoods, churches, and other voluntary arrangements that (besides work) provide meaning and relevance to people in their everyday lives. Charles Murray's In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government argues that government attempts to replace that voluntary sphere in poverty-stricken areas have had disastrous consequences.
How, Murray asks, can a person with little education or few skills find fulfillment? As a good neighbor, an effective parent, or a valued friend. If the government is incapable of keeping the streets safe enough for children to walk to school, neighborhoods—in any meaningful sense—can never come into being. Government can set the conditions that allow these bonds to form, for instance, by making neighborhoods safe. Otherwise, Murray says, it should get out of the way. A president who pays attention to In Pursuit could give millions of despairing Americans a chance to start working through these difficult times.
If Charles Murray provides theoretical justification for the importance of neighborliness, John Shelton Reed tells you how much fun it is to be a good neighbor. In Whistling Dixie: Dispatches from the South, the University of North Carolina sociologist spells out why minor-league baseball games, church picnics, and fishing trips are important.
Even though he calls himself a "crypto-semi-neo-Agrarian," Reed is not an enemy of modernity, he is no apologist for the Jim Crow days, and he doesn't imagine that everything was perfect 40 years ago. But he is onto something: Not so long ago, life was more civil. And (I would argue) we've lost much of that civility because we expect politicians and bureaucrats to solve every problem that comes our way.
John Shelton Reed and Charles Murray would probably agree about many things. The next president would be wise to listen to what they have to say.
Rick Henderson is Washington editor of REASON.
Because the next U.S. president will face crucial decisions about abandoning or restoring a republican form of government, it is urged that he read two current books—In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government, by Charles Murray (Simon & Schuster, 1988), and The Disuniting of America, by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (W.W. Norton, 1992)—and the somewhat older The Institutional Imperative, by Robert Kharasch (Charterhouse Books, 1973).
Murray's book can take its place as the peer of any book ever written on the nature and propriety of government—not as an ideological treatise but as a careful questioning based on only one assumption: that the pursuit of happiness, person by person, is in fact why our own government, an epic and historic innovation, was created and constitutionally constrained. Murray writes about people, not society, and makes the difference crystal clear. His book is a guide to the preservation of liberty, which, in turn, is the essential condition for the pursuit of happiness. The next president, being a representative of some faction or another of exactly the sorts warned against in The Federalist Papers, probably will find Murray's book intolerable. Alas.
Because the next president will serve during a time when the factions will have developed their own special languages—and possibly will even have been elected by echoing special vocabularies—the Schlesinger book is a superb reminder of the success up until now of the melting-pot dynamics of the country that still remains the preferred destination of so many immigrants, legal or not. When people vote with their feet, they generally vote American, no matter the politically correct position of blaming America for most, if not all, the world's ills. The Schlesinger book is particularly impressive as a counter to anti-American slanders because of the author's long and honorable representation of the modern liberal position. In this book he even sounds a bit like a classical liberal.
The Kharasch book is one of those overlooked gems that can make your day when you find a copy on a shelf of used books. It is a lighthearted but actually most serious look at how bureaucracies operate. The Iron Law: Bureaucracies exist in order to exist, no matter their publicly stated goals or roles. Because the next president will be in large part ruled by the demands of the bureaucracies, this book is an essential guide to the facts behind the factions. It also presents serious recommendations as to how the bureaucracies could be tamed. An example: No agency authorized to declare an emergency should also be authorized to manage it.
Karl Hess is a writer living in Kearneysville, West Virginia.
Despite the pandering rhetoric of the election campaign, foreign policy remains the first and foremost duty of any president. To fulfill that duty, our new president must first have a solid understanding of the century's worldwide conflicts, both their historical roots and their significance for future policy making.
If the rise and almost-fall of totalitarianism demonstrates anything, it is the principle that "ideas have consequences," as do idea makers. Intellectuals, far from being cloistered agents of learning and discourse, ultimately determine the course of human events—by creating rabid, revolutionary movements with millions of victims, or alternatively, by constructing a philosophical framework for protecting liberty. Leaders ignore the life of the mind to their peril. Today's philosophy students can be tomorrow's Khmer Rouge or Shining Path. Today's mild-mannered professor or author can be tomorrow's Karl Marx or Abimael Guzman.
Paul Johnson's Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties demonstrates that the conflicts and catastrophes of the century have their roots in intellectual trends. The new president must understand the importance of ideas, of philosophy, and of rhetoric, if he is to lead his nation out of its current post–Cold War torpor. Ronald Reagan, despite policy miscues, will always be counted as among the greatest of our presidents because of his implicit understanding of the power of ideas (gleaned, perhaps, from his career as an actor—a field not too distant, in many ways, from that of rhetoricians and scholars).
More specifically, the new president must thoroughly understand why Marxism failed, both as a political system and as a system of economic, psychological, and cultural insights. Reading Thomas Sowell's Marxism: Philosophy and Economics would be an excellent start.
For a little light reading, I'd advise my president to read the plays of Shakespeare—particularly Hamlet, King Lear, and Julius Caesar—for their insights into human action and the nature of leadership. Both George Bush and Bill Clinton escaped the American education system before its demise and thus have no doubt read these works. But Shakespeare is best savored, not simply skimmed. And if all the world is indeed a stage, then the next president of the world's only superpower will play the lead. He had best memorize the right lines.
Contributing Editor John Hood is editor of Carolina Journal and a columnist for Spectator magazine in Raleigh.
F. Kenneth Iverson
The president should read:
Trashing the Planet, by Dixy Lee Ray with Lou Guzzo. A well-known scientist gives an even-handed, common-sense perspective on environmental issues. It avoids the distortions and hysterical rhetoric that seem to be the order of the day.
The Fair Trade Fraud, by James Bovard. The author provides an in-depth look at our chaotic trade laws, which give incompetent industries an entitlement to milk the American consumer. The Fair Trade Fraud is the frightening story of the 8,000 tariffs and 3,000 quotas that restrict foreigners' rights to sell and American citizens' right to buy, and the description of an area where clearly the government has invaded the rights of the individual.
The Next Century, by David Halberstam. A short book by a thoughtful observer of society on our problems and the changes we need to make a better tomorrow.
F. Kenneth Iverson is chairman and chief executive of Nucor Corp.
Set in South Africa half a century ago, Alan Paton's deeply moving tale, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), is both a tragedy, in the classical meaning of the word, and a paean to the human virtues and dignity sadly lacking in much of American society today. Many nonfiction works have been written in recent years decrying the effects of the welfare society and the cult of victimization on personal morals and responsibility. For all their careful analysis, documentation, and statistics, however, none of those books brings home to the reader as Paton does the evil of abdicating individual responsibility and the human dignity of those who willingly live, and die, as a result of their actions.
A sidelight to Paton's central tale of a simple Zulu pastor and his wayward son is the story of the pastor's village—the land overworked and infertile and the people despondent. A wealthy white man arrives one day with plans to reverse this "tragedy of the commons" by dividing the land among the villagers. The right to private property is the subject of the other two books I suggest for our incoming president: Free Market Environmentalism, by Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal (1991), and Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, by Richard Epstein (1985).
Anderson's and Leal's environmental reader is the most important book for any political leader surrounded by aides, policy makers, and green advocates claiming that only the government can remedy environmental "crises." While other free-market environmental books are essential resources for information on specific environmental problems and why government "solutions" have made them worse, Free Market Environmentalism provides the fundamental principles used by every free-market environmental writer. Anderson and Leal explain, with many historical examples, that environmental problems can be solved by providing the right incentives to the people involved and by letting human initiative, not government mandates, take charge.
Particularly in light of recent battles between property owners and environmental activists over the "taking" of private property by restricting an owner's use of his land, Epstein's authoritative analysis of the concept of eminent domain restricted in the Constitution is the most important work on the subject available. The deceptively simple questions Epstein considers (What is a taking of property? Do current regulations—say, zoning or rent control—fall into that category?) ought to be posed to every policy maker from the president to your local zoning board—and, unfortunately for the security of property rights in America today, almost never are. A new president couldn't have a better foundation upon which to build his presidency than a profound respect for what the Founders considered one of the inalienable rights of women and men.
Elizabeth Larson is REASON's production editor.
Our nation's problems stem from an internal sort of cancer—call it lack of "family values" or, to be blunt, simply a lack of values. It touches every segment of our country, from crime on our streets to the well-being of our businesses, and it has very little to do with having children out of wedlock.
Even with large segments of the population receiving some sort of government aid, we still find a nation in the grips of so-called poverty. The book that blows the lid off the ineffectual hand-out system is Charles Murray's In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government. Murray quite graciously touches on every foundation that every individual needs to find true happiness—self-respect, education, a functional community, and family—and how our present system is providing everything but that. Everyone should read this book, not just the next president.
So that our president will further his understanding of the need for true self-esteem (not the pop version), I would recommend The Psychology of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden. And last, but not least, A Bend in the River, by V. S. Naipaul, to illustrate the negative effects of populating cities and towns with innumerable government employees ignorant of what a town truly is and what it means to be a citizen in one. A mere facade of freedom and prosperity, orchestrated by an irresponsible government, can only result in one thing: barely surviving in a jungle.
Laura Main, a former art director for REASON, is an artist and graphic designer in Los Angeles.
Donald N. McCloskey
If a president reads anything longer than 50 pages containing an argument, it's good news. Presidents—of universities and of companies as much as of the United States of America—have to be quick reads. But too much quick reading makes Jack a superficial boy. It makes him an arrogant boy, too, a Ross Perot, unaccustomed to the modesty of quiet listening. To read a good book with an argument you have to shut up and listen for a few hours, or you're not going to get it. The executive summary won't do. The last long-reading president was Harry Truman. Asked in his old age whether he liked to read himself to sleep he shot back, "No, young man: I like to read myself awake."
One book for the awakening would be Eric Hoffer's The Temper of Our Time (reprinted in 1992 by Buccaneer Books). Hoffer, who died in 1983, leaving 10 of these short but luminous books, was a San Francisco longshoreman and sage. He received no formal education, seizing it instead from libraries and bookstores on his way to pick fruit or offload cargo. He wrote in aphorisms, which make his books readable in rest periods from working out the schedule for the White House tennis court. Though a worker, Hoffer supported capitalism; though a thinker, he distrusted intellectuals. "In politics, the intellectual who as a 'man of words' should be a master in the art of persuasion refuses to practice the art once he is in power. He wants not to persuade but to command." A president should know that; Hoffer knew it at the height of American social engineering.
After Hoffer's aphorisms, try a sustained historical argument, from J. R. T. Hughes, a great economic historian at Northwestern who died this year prematurely: The Governmental Habit: Economic Controls from Colonial Times to the Present (new edition, Princeton University Press, 1991). From Hughes the president can learn the unhappy fact that we have always liked to interfere, we American individualists. Should "deregulation" be turned back by the new administration? Don't make me laugh. What Hughes called "the regulatory junk pile" is three centuries deep. We can crush modern economic growth with the junk pile if we try hard enough. The reborn state socialists in the environmental movement would like us to do just that. A president should know it.
And light relief: P. J. O'Rourke's A Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Tries to Explain the Entire United States Government (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991). The book is gutwrenchingly funny. Mark Twain called Congress "America's only native criminal class"; O'Rourke extends the characterization to the entire U.S. government. You can imagine the new president not joining the laughter. He should, and would gather thereby O'Rourke's serious point. It came to him in the middle of a New England town meeting: "The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it." There's something every president should know.
Donald N. McCloskey teaches economics and history at the University of Iowa. His most recent book is an edited collection, Second Thoughts: Policy Lessons from American Economic History, just out from Oxford University Press.
Mr. President, economics has never been your strong suit. You showed no more appreciation of how to generate real growth in the economy than your opponent did. Yet if the economy in the next four years doesn't begin to demonstrate the kind of growth it enjoyed during the '80s, your party may well be shut out of the White House for the next generation.
So what books can you read during the next two and a half months that might really make a difference in your new administration? Given the constraints on your time, the books should be 1) relatively short, 2) entertaining, 3) a source of ideas for improving the economy (if not the government), and 4) written by someone who has no interest in being appointed by you to a high government office.
The three books I recommend are (in the order in which they should be read): A Parliament of Whores, by P. J. O'Rourke (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991); The Fair Trade Fraud, by James Bovard (St. Martin's Press, 1991); and For Free Trade, by Winston S. Churchill (Arthur L. Humphreys, 1906).
O'Rourke's A Parliament of Whores is the most accurate, insightful book on American government since Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Read it. Suggest to your staff that P. J. would make a fine White House director of communications. (Don't worry, he won't accept). Fire those who disagree. They have no sense of humor and you're going to need people who do in your administration.
Armed with your newfound insight into how American democracy really works, move right on to the next book. It's time to start saving the economy. The secret lies in two words: tariffs and quotas. Eliminate them. Totally. Unilaterally. The result will be a $1,200 windfall to every American family, which will return $80 billion to the private sector by lowering prices to consumers everywhere, especially food and clothing for the poor and middle class. As a bonus, you will reduce federal bureaucracy. You will not increase the deficit and you will also cut the cost of goods for U.S. industry, thereby making it more competitive in world markets. It's all there and more in Bovard's The Fair Trade Fraud. All you need is the political will and skill to bring it off.
Which leads to the third book. You and your opponent gave lip service to free trade during the campaign. Everyone does. Then they go out and vote for "temporary" quotas and tariffs in order to achieve a "level playing field" and pocket the campaign contributions from those businesses who benefit. What will you do without those contributions and how do you respond to the demagogues who claim it is unpatriotic to buy less expensive, higher-quality, foreign-made products? Study Churchill's book.
He knew more about the politics and economics of free trade by the time he was 32 (when For Free Trade was published) than any 10 politicians you will have to face in the next four years. The arguments haven't changed in 90 years, and the numbers are still on your side. There are more cost-conscious consumers and competitive U.S. companies who benefit from the lower prices of free trade than there are inefficient businesses who wrap themselves in the flag and ask the government to save them. Organize the competitive companies; mobilize consumers. Collect campaign contributions from the former and votes from the latter. Churchill will show you how. Plagiarize him. His book is in the public domain. And if the Library of Congress can't find its copy, I'll lend you mine if you promise a) not to mark it up and b) to return it in good condition in February. Good luck.
Contributing Editor Michael McMenamin is an attorney in Cleveland.
Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, by Richard A. Epstein, Harvard University Press, 1985. I grant that the possibility of George Bush or Bill Clinton actually getting all the way through Takings is, charitably, remote. But they should. Contrary to popular political rhetoric ("The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a national…."), our country's excellence does not lie in becoming another Western European social democracy. Ronald Reagan had this one thing right: The United States is primarily not a geographic entity but the political expression of a few core ideas. The subtext of Epstein's intellectual tour de force is that those ideas are not rhetoric for the Fourth of July but are—or once were—the bones and muscle of the Constitution. It would be helpful to have a president who understood that.
Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harper, 1935. This is not a joke. I read Little House to my youngest daughter a few months ago and was at least as engrossed as she was. Little House is not really fiction but a reminiscence of a real childhood and a common national experience. What comes home most forcibly to the modern reader is how much we once took for granted that people and neighbors could do, and would do, for themselves—and, in contrast, how pitifully small and cramped is the average politician's vision of the average citizen's capacity. We Americans like to think of ourselves this way. Perhaps we would like to live that way too.
There is also a delicious final touch to Little House, a tiny counterweight to the politically correct histories of the American West. Do you remember why Laura's parents had to abandon the farm they had carved out of the prairie? Because they had settled four miles inside lands that were granted to the Indians by treaty, and the U.S. Army forced the whites to leave.
In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government, by Charles Murray, Simon & Schuster, 1988. OK, I understand that it's unseemly to choose one of my own books. But the point of In Pursuit was to lead people to think about the question, "What do we really want to accomplish?" in rigorous ways, applying it to the practical assessment of policy, and that is what being president is all about. It is a question neither Bush nor Clinton has visibly worried about in the past. It is time they did.
Charles Murray is the Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Finding three books that distilled all of the accumulated wisdom of mankind was hard. Finding three that would also appeal to a man who has neither the time nor the inclination to read fat books dealing with difficult ideas was nearly impossible.
Obviously, the first book on the list should be about economics. Voters consistently said that the economy was the most important issue in this year's election. Unfortunately, despite occasional bows to business, the president has never demonstrated that he understands how markets work. My first thought was to recommend Ludwig von Mises's Human Action. This exhaustive work starts with the basis of economic activity—individuals acting for their own ends—and explains in detail how markets work and why government interference keeps them from working. But the book, though clearly written, is long and complicated, one the president probably wouldn't pick up, much less finish. So instead I'm advising him to read Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. The best primer on economics, this book demolishes most of the fallacies the president will hear from his advisers.
The second big issue facing the country is race; divisions among various ethnic groups threaten to rip this country apart. I was tempted to pass along various books by Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Anne Wortham, and Stanley Crouch, but instead I advise the president to read Richard Epstein's new book, Forbidden Grounds. This sweeping book begins with the basic values of liberal society—freedom of contract and freedom of association—and shows how these values foster another liberal value, racial tolerance. Epstein then demonstrates how current civil-rights policies not only undermine freedom of contract and association but also promote racial division. Epstein's book should be the basis for a reevaluation of civil-rights law.
Deciding upon a third book proved to be the most difficult. Should I recommend something to counter all of the environmental doomsaying the president will undoubtedly hear from his advisers? Should I pass along a book outlining the benefits of free trade? What about foreign policy or defense?
I decided upon none of those options. Instead, I urge the president to read Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Why? First of all, it's a damned good read, the best of Heinlein's novels, so the president won't put it down. That's good because the first part of the book paints a believable portrait of how a truly free society would work. This book isn't abstract ideas but people, albeit fictional ones, dealing with problems and solving them without the government's help. Quite frankly, this book could do more to impress the value of freedom upon the president than any other I could recommend.
Charles Oliver is assistant editor of REASON.
Robert W. Poole Jr.
What has been most sorely lacking in the Bush administration is a basic vision, a philosophy of government. The most profound and important book on this subject in many years is Thomas Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions.
Sowell's inspiration was F. A. Hayek's 1945 essay, "The Use of Knowledge in Society." Knowledge and Decisions is a book-length elaboration on that theme, drawing on the extensive body of knowledge produced during the '50s, '60s, and '70s in such fields as law and economics and public choice theory. The book's theoretical first half explains how knowledge is generated and used in society, the necessity of trade-offs (economic, social, and political), and the crucial importance of incentives in human organizations. Part II applies these principles to 20th-century trends in economics, law, and politics, showing how and why centralization of government fails to solve the problems it's intended to solve and creates a host of new ones. A thorough familiarity with these lessons would give the president a needed dose of humility about what government planning and programs can accomplish—plus a framework for shaping a new kind of presidential agenda.
Perhaps the most serious threat to Americans' well-being and prosperity today is the rise of pseudoscience—irrational attacks on foods, drugs, chemicals, energy supplies, and modern technology itself in the name of protecting us from cancer or saving the environment. The first book to document the perversion of science in the service of a new regulatory agenda was Edith Efron's vastly underappreciated 1984 book, The Apocalyptics. Efron's specific subject is cancer prevention, and she presents the book as an intellectual detective story: a journalist discovering and systematically documenting the gradual corruption of science in the service of environmental politics. The book's length can be intimidating, and its title may be off-putting. But Efron's message must be understood by policy makers, especially as the same type of pseudoscience now dominates far too much environmental and energy policy making.
Another issue high on any president's agenda must be urban policy. Yet until last year, most books about cities failed to acknowledge the profound changes that have taken place in urban form over the last two decades. Joel Garreau's Edge City is the first popular book to take seriously the shift of economic activity from traditional downtowns to suburbia. What makes Garreau's sometimes rambling account especially interesting is that he obviously began his research hostile to these changes but ended up discovering a highly decentralized market process at work—a process that reflects the way real people prefer to live and work. An urban policy based on trying to restore the predominance of traditional downtowns, served by traditional transit, is not only doomed to failure but also profoundly antidemocratic.
In recommending these three books, I take it for granted that the president-elect has already read David Osborne and Ted Gaebler's much-touted Reinventing Government. It reflects a "new paradigm" approach stressing choice, competition, cost-effectiveness, and accountability. While hardly laissez-faire, this approach would represent a welcome change of course.
Robert W. Poole Jr. is president of the Reason Foundation and publisher of REASON.
Virginia I. Postrel
Washington is a weirdly sterile place—the true home of the cultural elite, left and right—and the president is the most insulated person in America (with the possible exception of Michael Jackson). Reading should break the box and pull the president into the world where people don't all have identical suits, identical haircuts, and mostly identical ideas about what constitutes the good life.
For starters, I recommend two beautifully written books about the people who are transforming world business and world cultures: American Steel: Hot Metal Men and the Resurrection of the Rust Belt, by Richard Preston (Prentice-Hall, 1991), and The Outnation: A Search for the Soul of Japan, by Jonathan Rauch (Harvard Business School Press, 1992).
American Steel is an adventure, an absolutely riveting drama of the building of a minimill to make rolled steel with never-before-tried technology. This audacious undertaking is made all the more challenging by Nucor Corp.'s determination to do everything fast. The book has plenty to say about international and domestic competition—"man against man" in English-class jargon—but it is really about man against nature, about the joys and hazards of taming metal that's nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, "runny as water and as unpredictable as a cat."
And while Preston vividly portrays the romance of hot metal, American Steel is anything but romantic. A terrible accident destroys much of the mill and leaves a man to die a slow and painful death from burns. "Until you see the walls of a steel mill blown off and part of the roof blown away, the power of hot metal doesn't hit you." Neither I, nor I suspect the president, would be willing to take the risks that making steel requires. But some people relish them, and civilization is the better for it. The president should appreciate that. So should the risk-averse control freaks who populate Washington.
The Outnation is as tranquil as American Steel is hard driving. Less about trade, competitiveness, and international relations than about people, culture, and values, this tiny volume (180 pages, with photographs) has more insightful things to say about trade, competitiveness, and international relations than most books two or three times its length.
Those insights spring primarily from Rauch's willingness to look at Japan detail by detail instead of cramming an entire civilization—and a country of 125 million not-in-fact-homogenous individuals—into a tidy thesis for talk-show bookers. An enormously subtle book filled with well-chosen stories about real people, The Outnation appreciates and exposes the myths Japanese and Americans tell about our cultures and our differences. It is suffused with a sense of history and with a great appreciation for liberal values and why we value them. Reading it, we learn not only about Japan but about ourselves, where we come from, and, perhaps, where we're going.
Dedicated "to the unknown civilization that is growing in America," The Constitution of Liberty, by F. A. Hayek (University of Chicago Press, 1959), is three times as long as The Outnation, has no pictures, and tells no anecdotes. It is not journalism. But it is profoundly about "the real world" and, though philosophy, it is not abstract.
Hayek's is the nuanced world of history and action, in which knowledge emerges from experience and experimentation and principles are different from revealed axioms. The Constitution of Liberty is one of the wisest books ever written, the most appreciative of liberty, and the most distant from today's Washington—a place where people actually believe the man in the White House "creates jobs" and dictates culture. Entering Hayek's world, even for a chapter, would be a radical step out of the box.
Virginia I. Postrel is the editor of REASON.
Three books, Mr. President? I can think of three dozen, and I can think of one. High on a list of three dozen would certainly be Mancur Olson's The Rise and Decline of Nations (Yale University Press, 1982), whose 10-year-old predictions today look depressingly accurate. Olson's hypothesis is that special-interest groups and their anticompetitive arrangements accumulate inexorably over time and gradually choke off economic and political vitality. Thus may postwar democracy, in America and elsewhere, seize up in much the way a man might choke on his own phlegm. Olson's hypothesis, though not uncontroversial, positively must be reckoned with, especially by a president, who needs to appreciate that pandering to interest groups is more dangerous than it seems.
Another among a handful would be Aaron Wildavsky's unheralded but fascinating The Rise of Radical Egalitarianism (The American University Press, 1991). Wildavsky looks at activists of seemingly quite different kinds, from land-use regulators to feminists to environmentalists to animal-rights advocates, and discovers a common cultural thread, namely the belief in the moral virtue of diminishing any given array of differences between people (or species). Most Americans believe in liberty and equality, but radical egalitarians are one-value people—like the antipodal radical libertarians, but much more influential."Egalitarians exist not to be satisfied," writes Wildavsky (italics his own). He will help show you what makes them tick.
But really there is only one book, on a list by itself. It was published in 1988 and has become a monument to the fact that liberalism still has millions of committed enemies, and they will hurt us if they can.
You ought to read The Satanic Verses and make sure everybody knows you are reading it. Then you should ensure that there will be no semblance of normal relations with Iran until the death sentence against Salman Rushdie is revoked. In 1989, George Bush's reply to the death sentence was of oatmeal consistency, and the White House has been silent on the matter ever since. Please do better. If the president of the United States does not stand stoutly beside those who exercise the right to criticize (as Rushdie's novel harshly and justly criticized both the Ayatollah Khomeini in particular and Islamic fundamentalism in general), then the world does not need him.
Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor of National Journal, is author of The Outnation: A Search for the Soul of Japan (Harvard Business School Press, 1992).
It's tempting to recommend the works of important classical liberals or summaries of contemporary libertarianism. But I'm afraid these would be too easily dismissed as outmoded or radical. Instead I've selected three books that are provocative without being too threatening or alienating. Rather than produce instant converts, they should have a more subtle, long-term impact that may result in some salutary second thoughts.
Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross's Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment (Prentice-Hall, 1980) is, despite the forbidding title, quite readable (for a serious psychology book, anyway). Nisbett and Ross explore how people go wrong in making judgments about themselves and the world around them, mainly by relying too heavily on cognitive rules of thumb and by failing to understand or apply principles of statistics and probability that are familiar to scientists. The book has no obvious political bent, but its implications for public policy, especially with regard to regulation and risk assessment, are profound.
Another psychologist, Stanton Peele, has built a career on challenging the conventional wisdom about addiction. His Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control (Lexington Books, 1989) is not a direct critique of the war on drugs, which may give his message a better chance of getting through. Like Thomas Szasz, Peele argues that the medical analogy has clouded our thinking about addiction and that we need to talk about people and responsibility rather than chemicals and diseases. He refutes many widely accepted myths about addiction, including the idea (accepted by a lot of Democrats and drug-policy reformers) that more money for treatment is the solution to "the drug problem."
Randy Barnett is not a psychologist, so far as I know. But he is the editor of and a contributor to The Rights Retained by the People (George Mason University Press, 1989), an attempt to understand the much-neglected Ninth Amendment. Although the book has a lot to say about liberty and individual rights—which you might think would be a turnoff for politicians—it draws on a wide range of perspectives, so it has a mainstream appearance.
Nevertheless, Barnett dares suggest that rights do not come from governments, that the Ninth Amendment might actually mean something, and that courts could even apply it in a principled fashion. Bold yet respectable, this book might plant a seed of doubt about the state's presumptions, or at least curiosity about our political heritage.
Jacob Sullum is associate editor of REASON.
Martin Morse Wooster
In asking this question, the editors of REASON are asking the president to do something that politicians rarely do—read for pleasure. Books are something most presidents avoid. Ronald Reagan read Tom Clancy, and John F. Kennedy enjoyed Ian Fleming novels, but Harry S. Truman was the last avid reader in the White House. Most presidents—and most politicians—subsist on a diet of words that consists of memos, government documents, and the occasional public-policy magazine.
So my first request would be that either George Bush or Bill Clinton find the time routinely to sit in a comfortable study full of books not directly related to his job. Most good writers are avid readers, and one of the reasons most politicians are incapable of giving a persuasive speech is that their "in" baskets largely consist of styleless mush. With that in mind, here are three books that will help the president sort through the issues of the day.
No better history of our sad and savage times exists than Paul Johnson's recently revised Modern Times (HarperCollins). Johnson wittily dissects the follies of dictators and statists in a stylish and decisive manner. Even though the age of tyrants has now mostly passed, Johnson's book is still essential for understanding how much of the world could have been deluded by fascism and communism.
Neither Ronald Reagan nor George Bush has done very much to alter the American welfare state, so Charles Murray's Losing Ground (Basic Books) is still essential, accurate, and necessary. Murray demolished the assumptions on which the welfare state was created, thus ensuring that welfare programs now have no intellectual base. Liberals have spent a great deal of time trying to refute Murray; they have found that his arguments are irrefutable.
Both Bush and Clinton want to reform American education, so they might learn something about how American education became as bureaucratic, sclerotic, and hierarchical as it is. There are not that many histories of education, but the best remains David Tyack's The One Best System (Harvard University Press, 1974). In this book, Tyack shows how misguided Progressives transformed American education from a decentralized system responsive to parental desires into a close-minded institution strongly resistant to change. The book is long out of print, but an enterprising reprint publisher should discover that this hard-to-find volume will have a wide audience.
Contributing Editor Martin Morse Wooster is REASON's magazine critic. His book on reforming public high schools will be published next year by the Pacific Research Institute.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "What Should the President Read?".