Libertarian History/Philosophy

John Stossel's Holiday Gift Guide

Struggling to find gifts to get for loved ones? How about a book?

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Struggling to find gifts to get for loved ones? How about a book?

I just made a video about some books that shaped my thinking.

First, Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom recounts how government trying to centrally plan an economy often leads to tyranny.

Government shouldn't intervene, wrote Hayek, because a free market, like a school of fish or a flock of birds, creates a spontaneous order. No central planner will allocate resources as efficiently as individuals do themselves.

For arguing that, Hayek was ridiculed. But years later, even defenders of socialism conceded that he was right.

With "democratic socialism" newly popular and celebrities like Jim Carrey saying, "We have to say yes to socialism—to the word and everything!" today is a great time to give Road to Serfdom to your socialist friends.

If only they'd read it…

Of course, Road to Serfdom is written in old-fashioned language that some people find tough going. A simpler, more America-focused book from which to learn about economics is Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics.

Sowell writes in plain English, without graphs or equations. Not only will Sowell educate your socialist friends, he'll show Donald Trump fans why free trade is good.

Two even easier-to-read introductions to economics and free market philosophy are the cartoon-filled Libertarianism for Beginners by Todd Seavey and Give Me a Break, written by an ignorant anti-business reporter (me) who finally discovered the benefits of markets.

But promoting those would be self-serving (Todd helps me write this column) so I won't even mention those fine books. I'll move on.

Prefer fiction?

How about Animal Farm for the animals in your family? George Orwell describes how farm animals revolt against an abusive human master—only to end up ruled by new tyrants, the pigs.

Animal Farm was meant to be an allegory for the Russian revolution turning into Soviet tyranny, but it could just as easily apply to today's America if populists get their way.

Another fun read is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It's long—more than a thousand pages—but easy reading because the novel pulls you along, describing how cultural bias against capitalism and love of big government grows.

Rand depicts creeping government oppression so convincingly that it feels like she's describing America today.

Rand argues that government isn't just inefficient; it's evil because it violates property rights and tells people how to live their lives. Government is like a looter or burglar, she wrote.

Today's media, by contrast, call capitalists looters and burglars. Years ago, the media called the most successful of them "robber barons."

A book by Burton W. Folsom, Myth of the Robber Barons, debunks those myths. It explains that capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt were neither robbers nor barons. They were not born rich, and they did not get rich by robbing people. They got rich by creating better things.

Rockefeller lowered the price of kerosene so much that it allowed poor people to read at night.

He probably even "saved the whales." That's because once Rockefeller made oil cheap, killing whales to get whale oil was no longer profitable. Bet your kids won't learn that in environmental studies class.

"Robber baron" Cornelius Vanderbilt didn't rob people. He made steamship travel faster and cheaper. It was jealous competitors who called him a "robber baron" because he charged lower prices than they did. The ignorant media picked up the term, and it stuck.

Finally, another great introduction to freedom is the book Free to Choose, in which Milton and Rose Friedman explain how limiting government creates prosperity.

Friedman reportedly joked that if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand.

In the TV series accompanying Free to Choose he argued, "We somehow or other have to find a way to prevent government from continuing to grow and continuing to take over more and more control over our lives."

Well, we've failed at that!

But at Stossel TV, we won't quit trying. Those books should help.

I hope my columns help a little bit, too. Happy holidays!

NEXT: Google Hearings Force the Question: Do We Really Want 'Regulation by Federal and State Governments' of 'Today's Disruptive Technologies'?

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  1. Hmmmm, here we go again.

    Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. A full book, not a single short lesson. Very clear and readable. For the math-wary, it doesn’t stray much past simple examples and the supply/demand curves. Printed books are available, so are free PDFs and eBooks of varying formats. so pick several and see which one’s formatting suits you.

  2. Stossel, your books introduced me into libertarian thought. Plus, your articles here are one of the only draws I have to Reason with all the SJW, TDS coverage going on here lately.

  3. Another fun read is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.”

    Bull shit thats a boring ass dry book I tried to read twice. My college physics book is more fun to read. she may have interesting things to say but when you can’t get passed her style it becomes useless.

    1. I don’t understand allegedly smart people that can’t get through that book. Yes, it’s longish, repetitive, and her writing style needed an editor, but it’s not a challenging read. Too bad you didn’t stick with it. She tries to justify why rough trade is the only legitimate form of lovemaking at one point, and why it’s totes cool for a woman to chuck aside her partner when the opportunity for rough trade with a young stud arises, but totally bogus when said stud chucks her aside for some younger tail. Check your premises, Ayn.

  4. Jeez, John…how about something in the “I’m not trying to give you a lesson genre”? It is a gift, after all. Let the libertarianism sneak up on your friends. Let it be fun. How about something with some drinking and whoring? Maybe something with an immigrant-business-owner success story in it? Something that examines the juxtaposition of big business, individual fortitude, small business, scientific endeavor, and the drunken bum in the yard? And if it can be an American classic, written by someone perceived to be a social activist of the 20th century, you’ll get your liberal friends to read it–again. Go buy them Cannery Row.

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