Friday, September 18, 2009


"What Should I Read to Learn Austro-libertarianism?" bask

(This is not a "bleg," since I am not begging, I am asking.)

I get emails all the time from people saying they have just stumbled onto Austrian economics and/or libertarianism (in the Rothbardian tradition), and they want to know where to begin. They adore my writings, of course, but what's the next level of fanaticism?

So in the comments let me know what you think the best gateway drugs are in this arena. E.g. I know some people say, "It all started with Ayn Rand," whereas for me that wouldn't have worked at all. (I'm not ripping Rand, I'm just saying there's no way I would have agreed to read a humongous novel that someone handed to me if I weren't already a fan of the worldview.)

Anyone interested in libertarianism would be well served by reading a book on Economics. I'd suggest David Friedman's Hidden Order, or his Price Theory for the braver ones.
My gateway to Austrian/Libertarian thought was Ron Paul's "The Revolution". It is a short book with a lot of information. He provides a nice reading list in the back of the book. Also, head on over to for a vast library of Austrian literature.
I like listening to Lectures and books on .mp3 in the car etc, so the media section at was the jackpot for me. (I don't remember how I originally found it).
If the interested person is already leaning towards the free market (as opposed to being a full fledged Pol Pot totalitarian), I would suggest Rothbard's "The Essential Von Mises" which is free online at

It is an easy read and explains the differences between the Austrian and mainstream schools of thought. It was originally a tiny pocket book which I read during downtime while working road construction in 1975.
For overall accessibility, I think I'd recommend "Meltdown." I don't think any other book has so much to offer in terms of being approachable, relevant, and does such a good job of bringing together a lot of the most compelling arguments for Austrian economic analysis.
And to to clarify, Bob: I think your first PIG book is pretty awesome in these respects, too. I think your book is better for people who are already willing to read a book about why capitalism rocks, while Tom's book has some more general appeal to it.
I usually direct inquiries to the Foundation for Economic Education ( and Econtalk ( websites. That's where I started and became hooked just over a year ago in a quest to understand the financial meltdown by primarily listening to the podcasts. From there I direct them to Mises and the wealth of articles on Austrian economics, classic liberalism, and common sense. For instance, I'm listening to Bob Higgs' multi-part lecture on crises and the growth of government while I build a retaining wall in my backyard.

For humor mixed with education, I recommend here, Munger's Kids Prefer Cheese, and Balko's Hit and Run blog at

Books - I'm short on that, but Bastiat's The Law was a revelation. I've listened to the audiobook of Rothbard's What Has Government Done to Our Money?, which has motivated me to dive into Man, Economy, and State.

Don't worry, Bob. Your PIG's are on my list.
Has nobody said Economics in One Lesson? Seriously you guys? That is my absolute go-to "I want this person to not be stupid any more" book.
I'd recommend Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics and Samuelson's Economics.

The Blackadder Says:

Tom Woods was my gateway drug (yes, you can quote me). I also thought that Brian Doherty's book Radicals for Capitalism was really good. It's not limited to Austro-libertarianism, but there's quite a bit of stuff about Rothbard, Von Mises, etc., and I found the summation of Austrian economics in the second chapter was compelling.
I'll second Alex R's suggestion of Economics in One Lesson, Hazlitt's fantastic primer on economics.
"Economics for Real People" - which i still hand out widely, even though I'm tempted to cut out Callahan's name from the cover pages.
Also, for an easy to read overview of the important figures and their works in the fight for liberty through history, Jim Powell's The Triumph of Liberty is hard to beat. Although there are chapters on Reagan and Thatcher, the ones on Montesquieu, Hugo, Erasmus, and a host of others (folks who put the "classic" in "classical liberal") make it more than worth the read for somebody in search of a who's who of libertarianism.
Well these responses confirm my worst fears: I am definitely the Chick Hicks to Tom Woods' The King.

(Those of you with young sons will surely understand.)
For economics, I'd recommend Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" or DiLorenzo's "How Capitalism Saved America". However, if the person is Catholic, I'd definitely tell them to read Thomas Woods' book, "The Church and the Market."

As far as libertarian philosophy, I'd still say that "Atlas Shrugged" is the best. Hoppe's "Democracy, the God that Failed" is good as well but it might be a little too hardcore. Also, Rothbard's "For a New Liberty" is fantastic (and free).
Henry Hazlitt - Economics in One Lesson. 'nough said.

Although for the ideological part, Atlas Shrugged is still king.
My libertarian synthesis in chronological order (in parenthesis are my reactions to reading the work).

The Ethics of Liberty (Woah, that's kind of hard core- I don't know about that)

Atlas Shrugged (Holy poo, this book is entirely humongous... but I love it. Hey, maybe Ethics of Liberty wasn't wrong at all...)

The Real Lincoln (I really like this, I think I'll ask Dilorenzo what he recommends for further studying economics)

*Tom Dilorenzo recommended the following two books:

Economics in One Lesson (Wow this is a simple read, and I feel like I learned a lot!)

Power and Market (Rothbard is the one true prophet.)
Henry Hazlitt - Economics in One Lesson. Bastiat - The Law.

Both are inexpensive in print or a free download.
I second "Economics for Real People"

Gene Callahan
What to "consume"

To understand the Austro-libertarian perspective:

1. Video: Google Talks with Ron Paul
2. Pamphlet: I, Pencil by Leonard Read
2. Book: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
3. Video: Money, Banking and the Federal Reserve
4. Book: What has Government Done to Money by Murray Rothbard
5. Audio: Any Roger Garrison mp3 regarding Austrian Business Cycle Theory
6. Book: Meltdown by Thomas Woods
7. Book: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression by Robert Murphy
8. Audio: Any Thomas DiLorenzo mp3 about Lincoln or Hamilton
9. Book: Democracy the God that Failed by Hans Herman Hoppe
10. Monograph: Chaos Theory by Robert Murphy
11. Book: The Market for Liberty by Morris and Linda Tannehill
12. Book: Good Money by George Selgin
13. Book: Defending the Undefendable by Walter Block
14. Resource:
15. Resource:
16. Resource:
17. Resource:

Yes, Rothbard's, Mises' and Hayek's most important works aren't in my list. I'm sorry. I consider my list a primer. The big guns, at least for me, are harder to digest quickly. Most of this stuff is based off of their work anyway and for a newcomer and a generalist, I think what I say makes sense. For in depth, definitely go to the source (Rothbard, Mises, Hayek, Menger, Bohm Bawerk, Bastiat, etc.)

To better understand fellow travelers and sometime opponents:
1. Audio: All of the mp3s from
2. Book: Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman
3. Video: Free to Choose with Milton Friedman
4. Book: Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
5. Book: Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell
6. Book: Knowledge and Decisions by Thomas Sowell
7. Video: John Stossel's Sick in America
8. Book: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
9. Resource:
10. Resource:
11. Resource: (unfortunately, sometimes this site is complete garbage)
12. Resource: (unfortunately, sometimes this site is complete garbage)

After absorbing the previous, to better understand the history, foreign policy and the wars of the US government consume these:
1. Book: A Foreign Policy of Freedom by Ron Paul
2. Book: The Blowback Trilogy (3 separate books) by Chalmers Johnson
3. Book: Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer
4. Book: Dying to Win by Robert Pape
5. Book: Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky
6. Book: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
7. Video: Farenheit 9/11
8. Video: Fog of War
9. Video: Why We Fight
10. Resource:
11. Resource:
My development:

I started college in 2001 as a "small government conservative". It quickly became obvious that the Republican Party was not "small government conservative", so I was getting dissatisfied with what I was seeing.

Fortunately for me, I was attending Grove City College, and majoring in Economics - where we're 3 for 3 for libertarian professors.

What converted me to libertarianism: Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom". He did well demonstrating that personal liberty and economic liberty are interconnected. I wasn't yet convinced of the an-cap way - yet - though the Rothbardian Austrian education I was getting was definitely pushing me that direction.

What finally tipped me over the an-cap edge: Hoppe's "Democracy the God that Failed".

Obviously, where you are in your intellectual development is going to have a big impact. When I discovered Austrianism, I was already familiar with economics more generally, and already leaned toward a free market.
Ron Paul's 2008 campaign introduced me to libertarianism.

Economics in One Lesson is precisely the book that introduced me to Austrian economics.

Peter Schiff introduced me to the importance of analogies.

Robert P. Murphy taught me that 'conservatives' can be funny.

The Youtube channel "confederalsocialist" introduced me to anarcho-capitalism.
I took a more circuitous route to learning and adopting Austrian Econ. I switched my major halfway through my junior year of college from history to econ after watching Milton Friedman's Free To Choose video series( At that time I was already heavily in to reading blogs and several of the ones I was subscribing to were economics oriented. I found a link on Mankiw's blog that had a list of introductory books that Mankiw recommended to aspiring economics students and those generally interested in the subject, so I ordered several of those. The ones I read were Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, Freakonomics, A collection of essays written by various Nobel Laurettes, among others. I also saw the name of a then very obscure figure that was routinely referrenced on several blogs, especially Cowen's Marginal Revolution--this figure was Friedrich von Hayek. So I picked up Hayek's most popular book, The Road to Serfdom and read that. After that summer I was hooked. I moved on from Hayek and Friedman to Joseph Schumpeter, another figure that was being referred to fairly frequently and who wrote several books that sounded interesting to me--this was at the beginning of the credit crisis when Libor/OIS jumped and around the time of the big publicity push for McCraw's biography of Schumpeter which I also read. So I read over my winter break Schumpeter's Business Cycles book (the abridged version, not the mega version lol), his Theory of Economic Development, and Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Needless to say this left me very confused, but fascinated nonetheless as a whole new worldview had just been opened up to me and I was motivated to just read more, which was rather easy for me having access to a quality university library. I also was very fortunate to have a professor, Richard Vedder, that was willing to sit and chat with me for several hours as I had many questions on the things I was learning, plus he had lectured at Mises University several times I believe so he was clearly familiar with the intellectual tradition of the Austrians. From Schumpeter I moved on to Hayek and Mises, and once I read my first Mises book, his Critique of Interventionism, I literally dropped everything else I was reading and picked up all the Mises books I could find and read, most notably his treatise Human Action.

I guess my point would be that it's too difficult, or probably not the most appropriate approach to say "go read this book and you'll learn a good introduction to overall libertarian/austrian theory". I know our overall goal is to spread that worldview and to convince others that the market and human freedom are the most effective means to realize a peaceful and prosperous society, but I just don't think anyone can just point to a book or a couple of books to serve merely as an introduction to the ideas. One cannot really fully know why the libertarian ideal is most appropriate without first understanding economics. So the best books to recommend would be those on economics, though it is important to recognize in doing so that there are no books that deal in even a superficial way with the economic system comprehensively without running several hundred to a thousand pages. The truth is, like with anything worthwhile it seems, there are no short cuts and learning economics requires loads of mental discipline and a willingness to explore the plethora of literature available on the subject. To me the best way would be for someone to want to learn more about a specific compenent of the economic system--say the process of production, or the role of the entrepreneur, or some other thing--and point them in a direction to the books that deal with that subject. Let them read and let them truly grapple with the ideas themselves. That is the only way IMO.

I wish I could recommend something to serve as a general introduction, but I never read any of those types of books I feel. In many respects the economics blogosphere already serves that purpose anyway.
The book that started it for me was "The Real Lincoln". This book opened my eyes to a lot that was never taught to me.

The only reason that I was even willing to read this book is a different story. I had a friend that was convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, and I was convinced that he had fell into the trap of being misled by someone trying to make a name for himself. So I took it upon myself to show him the error of his ways. Then I started really looking into 9/11. At first, my conclusion was that yes these guys have a plausible argument but there has got to be an answer. The harder I searched for answers, the more I began to realize that I was the one who was wrong. I soon found that there was no way, if physics was at all true, that a building could fall at the speed of gravity without help. Now, keep in mind that this was a year of hardcore research before I came to this belief. I hate to be wrong so I dug as deep as I could trying to find out the key evidence that would prove me wrong. Sadly, either physics needs to be rewritten, or my friend is right.

That is what broke me out of the matrix and gave me the desire to look into economics. When I found out that there was such a big problem, I just had to find the answer. Now I read, at least some, Austrian economics book everyday. 9/11 woke me up and anarcho-capitalism showed me the way life should be.
i heard of ron paul from in 2005 (Jim puplava's show) and read about austrian economics in marc fabers book tomorow's gold the rise of asia.then jim rogers followed.then mises was to verbose so i didnt like it.then the 2007 rp campaign reignited the love for econ and liberty
How it worked for me:

Ron Paul "Manifesto" > Henry Hazlit "Econ in One Lesson > Rothbard "Case against the Fed" > Murphy "Chaos Theory" > Rothbard "Ethics of Liberty". sealed the deal for me.
I'd like to second Radicals for Capitalism, which I've been making my way through recently. As someone who had never read any of these books and got such info only from blogs and wikipedia before, it's been fascinating to find out more about the history of the movement.
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