Introducing Libertarianism: 5 Quick Reads

Whether you are waiting at the Hub in between classes or tanning on Green Beach on a Sunday afternoon, there is no better way to pass the time than a good read. If you are open to learning more about libertarian philosophies, there are five short works (all of which you can finish in one sitting) that best explain the basic tenets of libertarianism. Below is a list of scholarly articles, essays, and novellas that sparked my interest in the movement.

1. “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read

As its title suggests, “I, Pencil” is uniquely written from the point of view of a pencil. This charming, 3-page narrative describes the vastly interconnected network of people, tools, and resources required for the pencil’s production. Think about it: you need someone to chop the wood, mine the graphite, mix the clay, make the paint and lacquer, imprint the label, supply the metal, manufacture rubber erasers, so on and so forth. The main point the pencil seeks to illustrate is how the Invisible Hand organically brings together millions of people from various industries and all parts of the world. Each of these individuals has specialized knowledge that helps create this simple, yet important good for consumers.

2. “The Use of Knowledge in Society” by Friedrich Hayek

Friedrich Hayek discusses the “knowledge problem” in this famous 14-page essay, asserting that no single person can hold all of the relevant information needed to plan an economy. The essay’s premise is that bureaucratic central planners can never account for an individual’s preferences, skills, and resources––this knowledge is unique and exclusive to the individual. Hayek argues that this problem can be solved, however, through the price system: prices are a form of communicating subjective values between different people. “The most significant fact about this system,” he writes, “is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action.”

3. “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat

When Ron Paul was asked what book every American should read, he answered “The Law.” Frederic Bastiat, a mid-19th century French legislator, explores two fundamental questions in this 50-page pamphlet: What is the law? And how can we tell when a law is just or unjust? Bastiat provides an in-depth examination and a series of compelling hypotheses, many of which illustrate how greed “plunders” the law. This message is especially relevant today, as it echoes Americans’ growing concerns about crony capitalism and corporatism in U.S. politics.

4. Anthem by Ayn Rand

In this 128-page fictional novella, Ayn Rand takes you on the journey of a man who, in a dystopian collectivist future, rediscovers his own sense of selfhood and individualism. If you haven’t read any of Rand’s works before, Anthem is a great start––it is much less daunting (and substantially shorter) than The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Her objectivist philosophy is renowned worldwide, and her influence is even present in modern American politics: Paul Ryan famously tried to get all of his congressional interns to read Rand’s novels, and even gave copies of Atlas Shrugged to his staff for Christmas one year.

5. The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul

Former U.S presidential candidate and House member Ron Paul undoubtedly has a unique set of governing ideals, as evidenced by his cult-like following. Although not a particularly compelling speaker, he effectively articulates his policy proposals in his 192-page manifesto. Paul calls for a return to the Constitution, increased self-government, and a non-interventionist foreign policy that is the antithesis of the Bush (and Obama) Doctrine. His hardline stance against both Democrats and Republicans, coupled with his libertarian streak and intriguing use of historical analysis, allows for a truly unique view of American public policy.

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