Books I Would Recommend to those Who Disagree With Me

Megan McArdle and Tony Woodlief give their answers to an interesting question: What three books would you recommend to a thoughtful person who disagrees with you politically, in the hopes that reading them will change their mind?

My recommendations would depend a lot on whether the person in question disagrees with me from the right or from the left, and also on the extent of their previous knowledge of social science. Let’s assume, however, that the person is well to the left of me, and that they are an intelligent layperson rather than a scholar or public policy professional. In that case, I would probably pick Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions – an excellent summary of the reasons why private sector institutions generally process information and make decisions better than government; William Mitchell and Randy Simmons’ Beyond Politics: Markets, Welfare, and the Failure of Bureaucracy – a good, accessible exposition of the economic shortcomings of government relative to markets; and Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World, which explains how simple, libertarian legal systems are likely to work better than complex ones with more statism and regulation. The biggest area of disagreement between libertarians and liberals is over the role of government in controlling the economy. These three books focus on that issue. I have also picked books that try to persuade by analysis and evidence rather than emotional appeals – even though I have to admit that the latter are often more effective.

There is much less in the way of libertarian literature specifically directed at persuading conservatives. However, F.A. Hayek’s classic essay “Why I am Not a Conservative” is surely relevant for reasons I elaborated here.