1. The Law, by Frederic Bastiat
Bastiat's trenchant criticism of government intervention, The Law, was first published in 1850. Written in plain language, with hard-hitting logic, and laced with sarcasm, Bastiat does not spare the feelings of the devotee of socialism. Under socialism, Bastiat wrote, the law has been perverted to become an instrument of plunder. Instead of encouraging just conduct, the state under socialism suppresses it. Bastiat advocates strict limits on the civil government. One of my favorite passages concerns education:Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.The Law is short, easily readable in two or three sittings. And it is necessary for a complete library of liberty. As Walter Williams wrote, "a liberal-arts education without an encounter with Bastiat is incomplete."
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. ...It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
2. Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt
Like The Law, Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson is written in plain language for a popular audience. I have found it extremely useful in undergraduate economics classes, because it makes clear applications of a basic economic idea. In the first chapter, the "one lesson" is reduced to a single sentence. "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
The rest of the book is simply the application of that one principle. Tariff laws are one of Hazlitt's targets. Hazlitt points out, using a tariff on sweaters as an example, that repealing a tariff has effects other than throwing workers in the tariff-protected industry out of work. Other effects are also important, though they may not be easily seen because they are thinly dispersed throughout the economy. Someone, he says, who once paid $30 for a sweater can now obtain the sweater for $25 from a foreign manufacturer. Now that person has $5 left over to spend on other items. And the foreign country that obtains the 25 American dollars will turn around and use those dollars to buy American products or build factories in the United States. American firms that export will benefit from free trade, and, more often than not, American workers benefit. The consequences of repealing the tariff extend beyond the one suffering industry that appears in the news.
This is only one application of Hazlitt's "one lesson." There are over twenty other applications, ranging from minimum wage laws to public works to inflation. It is an excellent beginning for someone interested in economics.
3. Politics of Guilt and Pity, by Rousas J. Rushdoony
This is one of R.J. Rushdoony's major contributions to a Christian understanding of society. It was first published in 1970 but was reprinted in 1995 with a foreword by Steve Schlissel. As is usual with Rushdoony's writing, Politics of Guilt and Pity is clear, logical, and applicable to specific questions of ethics. Each chapter is a gem, but I especially like his description of the multiple "governments" that have an impact on us. Rushdoony points out that people tend to use the term government as though it were synonymous with state. Yet civil government is one among many authorities that the Bible recognizes. I regard the core governments to be self-government, family government, church government, and civil government. Rushdoony describes each of these, and adds the school, the vocation (business, or profession), and private associations (neighborhood, friends, voluntary organizations, and the like). In a time when the civil magistrate is invading the jurisdictions of these other authorities, it is particularly important to recover the proper use of the term government.
As an economist, I can appreciate Rushdoony's section on the politics of money. But each of the four main parts of the book contain valuable contributions to the biblical understanding of the place of the state. Of great importance is Rushdoony's defense of the idea of private property. I do not believe it would be a disservice to Samuel Rutherford to say that this book is in the running to be the Lex, Rex of our day.
4. Inherit the Earth, by Gary North
Many Christians who are interested in economics will already be familiar with the work of Gary North. It is difficult to do any study in this area without running into several of his books, and with good reason. North is one of the most prolific, and one of the most important, writers on Christian economics. Most, if not all, of his books are now available on the Internet at www.freebooks.com.
Inherit the Earth is a good starting place for someone interested in what the Bible has to say about economics. I have used it in introductory economics classes at Christian colleges, and high school students would do well with it also. It is written in Gary North's trademark style: clearly, pulling no punches, with very specific applications of biblical economics to everyday life. Inherit the Earth was published as one in the "Biblical Blueprints" series of books that contains some other excellent resources. Another book by Dr. North that I have found particularly useful is his Foundations of Christian Scholarship, which is written for more advanced readers.
5. The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich A. von Hayek
This is a true classic in economics, the book for non-academic audiences that is better-known than some of Hayek's other work. Hayek was an early critic of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, and is famous for his argument that the nature of knowledge precludes central planning, as well as his contribution to our understanding of economic depressions. Since the Vienna-born Hayek was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974, the free-market school of economics known as the "Austrian School" has enjoyed a steady revival of interest. The Road to Serfdom, which appeared in 1944, is a sharp criticism of the sort of state planning that was sweeping the world in the 1930s and 1940s. Hayek advocates the rule of law, the freedom of the individual, and the tradition of classical liberalism. The rise of dictatorships and the horrors of World War II were, Hayek said, the result of abandoning the road to freedom. Hayek dedicated his book to "the socialists of all parties." Socialists of today have yet to answer Hayek's arguments.