In his book, Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, Simon Blackburn takes the reader on a semi-structured tour of various ethical topics. He tackles a variety of bad ideas that have made their way into the ethical arena and spends the majority of the book focused on putting them down. Blackburn mostly refrains, however, from developing or advocating any particular ethical theory.
Surprisingly, given the title, the book not overly friendly to the uninitiated. The reader is often expected to already be familiar with major ideas, figures, and schools of thought in ethics and philosophy. While in the beginning Blackburn does do a good job explicitly motivating why ethical systems are important, by spending the bulk of the work on focused on flawed systems, the book might be discouraging to individuals looking for an ethical system to live by. Blackburn does drop a few hints at what he thinks a good ethic might look like, but sadly it seems to be some sort of democratic socialism.
Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst is a book that explains how ineffective medical techniques were until medical professionals adopted a scientific approach to testing treatments, and reviews how various alternative medicines have performed under the scrutiny of high-quality modern clinical trials.
This book will be interesting to ancaps for two reasons. The first is that those of us who were not raised libertarian but had to go through the world-shattering process of learning it as adults tend to be vulnerable to people peddling bad medical advice and bogus treatments. This book will help protect you from charlatans and snake-oil salesmen.
The second reason is that it contains interesting historical facts about how government has impeded progress in the medical field, adding to its already-unfathomable death toll. Continue reading →
In his book, A Spontaneous Order: The Capitalist Case for a Stateless Society, Chase Rachels does an excellent job conveying insights from both libertarianism and economics. He uses clear explanations of basic concepts and persuasive examples for applications. He relentlessly identifies aggression as the root cause of society’s problems, and the state as the primary source of aggression. Most importantly, the book is permeated by a Rothbardian hatred of the state, which will make it an enjoyable read for any ancap.
Rachels makes frequent use of long passages quoted from other works. Thankfully these are drawn from some of the best sources on libertarianism and economics: Continue reading →
Sapiens is a high level summary of human history. It takes a look at not just our species of humans, but also the human species that our ancestors drove into extinction. While this book is not written from an anarcho-capitalist perspective by any stretch of the imagination, it should still be an enjoyable read for most ancaps for two reasons. First, without really intending to, it nicely summarizes the progress humans have made in our never-ending quest for freedom. Second, though the author cannot seem to help occasionally giving undue credit to government, the book conveys enough skepticism towards the state that an ancap can still appreciate the good parts.
From an anarcho-capitalist perspective, Sapiens is a book about capital accumulation, though it does not really know it. It begins 70,000 years ago Continue reading →
Many works on economics are depressing. This is because economic analysis properly starts with the ideal economy: a free market of individuals producing all the wonders one can imagine. It then analyzes the ways in which government prevents these good things from happening in the real world. The reader is then left to contemplate his own dismal existence in comparison to what might have been. Notable exceptions include I, Pencil and Julian Simon’s book The Ultimate Resource 2.
Simon’s book is uplifting because instead of comparing reality to an anarcho-capitalist society, it compares the real world to popular, but imaginary, dystopias. He dismantles the alarm around overpopulation, resource depletion, and other doomsday scenarios with solid economic analysis and historical evidence. Furthermore, he explains how all of these supposed problems are solved efficiently and elegantly by the free market.
This book is ultimately a happy tale of human progress. Despite the seemingly limited supply of natural resources and the counter-productive efforts of government, people continue to have more access to food, water, clean air, and other things that make their lives better. Every resource that people desire has been on a trend towards greater abundance. This is not in spite of population growth, but because of it. As Simon says:
“More people, and increased income, cause resources to become more scarce in the short run. Heightened scarcity causes prices to rise. The higher prices present opportunity and prompt inventors and entrepreneurs to search for solutions. Many fail in this search, at cost to themselves. But in a free society, solutions are eventually found. And in the long run the new developments leave us better off than if the problems had not arisen. That is, prices eventually become lower than before the increased scarcity occurred.”
Simon cautions that although this trend is prominent in historical surveys, it is not inevitable. Continue reading →
Ludwig von Mises’ last book is an examination of social sciences as they are and as they should be. Mises characteristically spends time excoriating historians who pretend to be economists. His main effort, however, is on the proper delineation between psychology, economics, thymology, and, of course, history.
For those who have read Human Action, the distinction between historical science and economic science is well known. When a so-called economist models the price of onions in Venice in the 1850s, he is not furthering economic knowledge, but simply using mathematics to relate what happened in the past. That this work provides no economic insight and has no predictive power is a central theme of Theory and History.
Furthermore, Mises attacks supposed economic theories that are actually theories of history, and bad ones at that. He embarrasses Marxism for its foundational beliefs that technology determines the social state of affairs and that history is on an inevitable trend towards a final state of socialism. With his typical dry humor, Mises tears apart collectivist ideologies, though some may seem obscure to a modern reader.
Friedman does his best work using economics to describe how, and why, anarcho-capitalist institutions could, and should, be developed. He gives an excellent historical examination of Iceland, which had a legal system that showed how some libertarian ideas would work in practice. In Chapter 37, he also has some wise words for radicals about civil disruption, discussing how shock tactics and property damage will only instill in people a desire for strong government. He warns that anarchists should avoid traditional revolutionary techniques used by those who want to usurp government power because the same strategy does not work for destroying government power all together. It should be noted that this book is not just an historical tour of libertarianism. Friedman includes many modern topics, including crypto-currencies and anonymous online markets.
Rather than take a broad look at the different areas where Friedman shines on well traveled topics (global warming, private courts, market derived law) and nit-picking other areas (pollution, foreign policy, writing style), this review will focus on the implications Machinery of Freedom has for libertarian ethics. This is because the most important contribution of his book 40 years later is not the libertarian answers he was able to find but rather those questions that he has been unable to identify solutions for after all of these years. In this way, Friedman lays out clear challenges to young libertarian thinkers who are working on the next generation of libertarian insights.
Friedman’s challenge consists of two fundamental problems with principled libertarianism that, even after 40 years, no one has answered to his satisfaction. Continue reading →