Update February 1: I now count 46 rsponses, with Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson the leading single vote-getter and Thomas Sowell the leading author with six total votes. Thanks to everyone who pparticipated in such a fun project--I don't plan to update continuously but it would be cool to figure out a way to formalize this list somehow. -- Max
On a whim yesterday, I tweeted a question: “If there’s one article or book you wish those on ‘the other side’ could read with an open mind, what would it be?” I think we’ve all had moments debating one issue or another where we thought that if only the other person better understood some crucial idea, there would be no debate at all.
I wish I could say I kept my question intentionally vague to allow respondents to gravitate to the works that inspired them the most. But it was just a tweet — albeit one seeking an antidote to what felt like a particularly ugly week filled with more attacks on character than usual. Sometimes it’s nice to get back to the ideas that inspired us or changed our own thinking in the first place, even if nobody will be setting up a book club for political adversaries anytime soon.
By this morning, I had two dozen responses that I thought were interesting enough to share with our readers. My Twitter followers are certainly not a random sample, nor was the question in any way scientific, and I’ll refrain from critiquing any response from the list below, which I present in alphabetical order by author. My aim is to let people share the works that most inspire them.
My own choice was F.A. Hayek’s 1945 paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Some may protest that academics of all stripes already know the work — the American Economic Review named it one of the top 10 papers in its history. And it’s also not ideal for an economic novice. But its key insight, that knowledge is dispersed throughout the economy and any planner would necessarily throw away information relative to decentralized decision-making and a well-functioning price system, made me see why there are better ways to help people than trying to fix markets from the top down. I desperately wish my friends on the left saw the importance of that one idea.
But I’ll let the long list of works below speak for themselves. Hayek, Hazlitt, and Sowell tie for the lead with three recommendations each. These great works may not get to those with whom the respondents debate, but I hope that anyone can both find something new and be reminded of an exhilarating aha moment from years past. Thanks so much to those who responded. I’ll do my best to update the list for anyone so inspired.