01 Oct 2011

Reading List in Austrian Economics and Libertarianism

Economics, Rothbard, Shameless Self-Promotion 26 Comments

People occasionally tell me that they are new to Austrian economics, and want a reading list. Well if you want the actual books there’s the year-long Home Study Course I developed, but if you’re broke here’s a cheaper way to jump in:

Free-Market Economics with an Austrian Flavor

* Lessons for the Young Economist. My textbook-ish introduction to free-market economics, aimed at the junior high level. However, even if you’re an adult, if you’ve never read these kinds of ideas before, I think you should still start here. I put a spin on certain things that you probably won’t get elsewhere, at least not without a lot of study.

* Economics in One Lesson. This is Henry Hazlitt’s classic. Contains modern statements of the Broken Window Fallacy, explains why machinery doesn’t throw us all out of work, etc.

* The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. Because this was put out by a commercial publisher, there’s no online version of this book. But most Barnes & Nobles still have a copy in stock, so next time you’re at the store you can peruse it if you want. Anyway, in this book I tried to summarize a defense of the free market, and critique of State intervention, on a variety of topics. If you want to order it, click on the ad on the left.

Actual Austrian Economics

* Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action. This is arguably the most important book I’ve written to date. I distill Mises’ Human Action down to a 300-pageish book that an undergrad econ major would be able to follow. The link gives you a detailed summary, plus you can see blurbs from other economists saying the book accomplishes its purpose. You will definitely understand the Austrian approach to money, banking, and the business cycle if you get Choice.

* Economics for Real People. Before he turned to the dark side, Gene Callahan wrote a very nice introduction to Austrian economics. So the difference between this book, and the ones in the previous section, is that Gene is here distinguishing Austrian economics per se from generic free-market economics.

* Man, Economy, and State. If you are going to call yourself an Austrian, there’s no getting around it–you have to take a month (or more) and just read MES from cover to cover. However, Rothbard is a fantastic writer and he covers just about everything in terms of economic principles in his magnum opus. Be sure to have my study guide when you go through MES.

Readings in Libertarianism

* Liberalism. I can remember when I was in undergrad and soaking up the wisdom of Ludwig von Mises in this little booklet. I had already read his Human Action by that point, but that was a very intimidating and difficult book. In contrast, Liberalism was crystal clear and gave a view of the interaction of ideas, violence, and property rights that was one of the seminal foundations of my current worldview.

* Chaos Theory. Once you have been warmed up, you’re ready to take the plunge and read some nutjob (me) advocate the total elimination of the modern State. In other words, don’t just privatize the Post Office, privatize the police and army too. (Yes, I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.)

* For a New Liberty. Rothbard here paints a comprehensive portrait of the free society, meaning one in which there are no systematic violations of property rights. He argues that just about every modern “social problem”–whether it’s traffic congestion, pollution, police brutality, or nuclear war–is caused by, or at least greatly exacerbated by, government meddling.

Concluding Remarks

Obviously my above list is skewed toward just a few authors, including myself. In my defense, I set out to write a book to fill a gap, so it’s not shocking that afterwards I recommend the book I just wrote…

Tom Woods has a much more extensive program here. Don’t tell Tom–since he’s already arrogant enough–but I bet he’s read more “classics” in economics than I have.

26 Responses to “Reading List in Austrian Economics and Libertarianism”

  1. Paul R. says:

    Beefcake that’s odd. I’ve heard like a million people recommend Callahan’s book as a place to start.

    “If you are going to call yourself an Austrian, there’s no getting around it–you have to take a month (or more) and just read MES from cover to cover.”

    Is “Austro-Elitism” a word?

    • Paul R. says:

      Did someone just delete a comment or am I replying to figments of my imagination?

      • Beefcake the Mighty says:

        No, Bob deleted it.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Yep. Beefcake calm down. This isn’t a locker room. I’m permanently hosting this post and I don’t need people to see your profanities right out of the chute.

    • Beefcake the Mighty says:

      Then a million people are [wrong]. How many millions of people support the state? Are you really serious here?

  2. To says:

    Where do you rate the classic, Ethics of Liberty, by Rothbard to his other works for illustrating Austrian/libertarian ideals? How about Hoppe on the list, Democracy The God That Failed was also a game changer for me.

    Send me email if you have time.

    Tom Trosko

    God bless you for what you do!

  3. John says:

    I’ve always been curious about what exactly happened to Gene Callahan? Why did he depart from Austrian economics? Was it a gradual thing, or did he wake up one day and decide it was all bunk? No hate or judgement on the man, but I’m always curious about these radical shifts. One day I was reading his book and articles on Mises.org, and the next day I look at his blog and see him trying to discredit Austrian economics/libertarianism in general. What gives?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I don’t know, but Gene’s neighbor said George Soros visited one time. After that, Gene started trashing Rothbard on his blog. And driving a Ferrari.

      • John says:

        That would actually be really funny if it was true.

      • MamMoTh says:

        Interesting. If I start a blog and trash Rothbard, will I get a Ferrari too? Or a Mosler?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          No MamMoTh, if you trash Mosler from now on, then you get a BMW.

          • Bala says:

            Sunday mornings are always nice when you begin them laughing out loud. Thanks for making it happen for me 🙂

          • MamMoTh says:

            I’d rather save more coconuts and exchange them for an MT900 in the future.


  4. Bob Roddis says:

    I would start with “The Essential Von Mises” by Rothbard.


    • MamMoTh says:

      Not that sycophantic crap again. Let Murphy do the recommendations. At least he knows what he’s talking about despite his bad taste.

      Where’s my friggin coin?

  5. marris says:

    I think Rothbard’s Mystery of Banking is definitely a candidate for the economics list. Very well written and fairly short. He examines different money-banking systems, starting with gold warehouse receipts to gold-backed CB notes, to unbacked CB notes.


    I think the last system still assumes checking account reserve ratios, so the reader should probably follow up with Boyapati’s deflation paper.


    Bob, has anyone else written about ABCT (or any other structural business cycle theories) in a world without checking account reserve ratios?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Do you mean w/o government-enforced ratios? If so, then yeah, the whole Free Banking literature, right?

  6. Bob Murphy says:

    I should also say that Steve Landsburg’s The Armchair Economist is a great book. It’s not Austrian, and in fact some of his arguments I think are very wrong, but it was one of the books that made me swoon as a youngster and think, “Wow, I want to be like this guy when I grow up.”

  7. Maurizio says:

    +1 for chaos theory.

    I also think “The Machinery Of Freedom” by David Friedman still deserves mention. Notable quote: “under government, good law is a private good. That is why it is not produced.”

    Which raises the question: Bob, have you ever written anything on public goods and externalities? What do you think of this paper which seems to refute the mainstream theory of externalities on its own terms? http://mises.org/pdf/asc/2002/ASC8-Barnett-Saliba.pdf

    • Bob Murphy says:

      MamMoTh, I’m not really sure what to think of that whole episode. I mean, the standard beef among people at the Mises Institute was that Hayek gave too many concessions to the Nanny State in Road to Serfdom, etc. So the fact that he used government health care money doesn’t shock me.

      I’m curious though: Whatever hypocrisy you think is on display here, what would be analogous for (say) George Soros and Paul Krugman? Like, if it turned out that they didn’t send their kids to government schools, or that they didn’t go fight in Obama’s wars, or…? I’m trying to be funny with those examples, but I’m being serious about the question. What would be similarly hypocritical and scandalous for us to discover, in correspondence between Soros and Krugman (or Mosler for that matter)?

      • MamMoTh says:

        Tax evasion?

        I think that the most hypocritical/part part of the story is Koch’s attitude.

  8. senyoreconomist says:

    I like the list. I really think that Mises’ Liberalism deserves far more credit than it has gotten and I am glad that Dr. Murphy included it on his list. One question though. It seems that Reisman’s book is never on these lists. Why is that?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Well, I think it’s so dang long that most of us haven’t read it. I’ve only read the stuff on capital & interest theory. :/

      • senyoreconomist says:

        Interesting psychological point regarding the length business. If you buy the 2 volume paperback version of Man, Economy and State, it doesn’t look so formidable. As beatiful as the hardback copy is, if Capitalism were broken into say 10 (ha,ha) paperbacks and put into a cardboard case like the Liberty Fund version of Human Action, people would then only have to read one normal sized book at a time. That is less psychologically formidable, so over time they might be more likely to read the whole thing…What do you think?

      • senyoreconomist says:

        What did you think of his stuff on capital and interest?