Five Books that Make a Free Market Conservative
It is an enduring mystery why conservatives in public office find themselves unable to remain conservatives.
One who wishes to be a conservative or understand conservatism need understand only five books. (Don’t worry, it’s not an onerous list and does not require that much reading. One should always remember Reagan’s observation that a communist is someone who reads Marx, while an anti-communist is someone who understands Marx.) The books are
- Simple Rules for a Complex World, Richard Epstein
- Free to Choose, Milton & Rose Friedman
- Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
- The Appearance of Impropriety, Peter Morgan & Glenn Reynolds
- Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Gerd Gigerenzer
Everyone campaigns as a free market conservative in favor of lower taxes and smaller government (even, or especially, socialists) but hardly anyone acts as a conservative in office. Putting aside the easy explanations, such as that politicians lie (refer to Profiles in Courage, which approvingly refers to such statements as “You must learn that there are times when a man in public life is compelled to rise above his principles”) and that money is always spent in what an easy majority of people believes to be a good cause, the reason so few politicians are able to remain conservative is that so few of them do even the minimal amount of work to understand what conservatism is. These Five books are enough to establish the necessary bulwark.
Most important is “Simple Rules,” which is really just a statement of individual autonomy (the first rule). The alternative is to believe that people collectively are somehow superior to people individually. The other rules are all derived from and implied by the first rule: no aggression, voluntary exchange, first possession, limited privilege necessity, takings with compensation, and welfare paid for with a flat tax.
“Free to Choose” states clearly why freedom works best.
“Parliament of Whores” must be the best analysis of the American political system by any living writer, and it’s funny to boot.
“The Appearance of Impropriety” is all about how government power mostly subverts what it claims to promote.
“Gut Feelings” is a good text for understanding that the world is less about giving power to “the best people” and more about responding honestly to success, yes, but equally or perhaps more important, responding honestly to failures. Any official who chooses to talk about only successes is incompetent or lying or both.