Being a libertarian isn’t something that many necessarily think they are. I’ve often said that most people are libertarians; they just don’t know it. Before I realized I was a libertarian, I identified as a conservative, occasionally with an add-on like “constitutional” or “traditional” or “Goldwater”. As the years went by, and nearly every Republican from John McCain and Rick Santorum to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio claimed the title of “conservative”, I became disillusioned with the term and began digging into what it really stood for.
The term conservative was first used by Russell Kirk, and he’s considered the modern founder of conservatism, while taking many of his views from earlier philosophers such as John Locke and Edmund Burke. Barry Goldwater, Presidential candidate and author of Conscience of a Conservative, was a student of these kinds of ideas, and many would say President Ronald Reagan was the natural successor to Goldwater. Times have changed though…
Today the term “conservative” has become watered down and many wonder, as I did, if it even holds any meaning anymore. It was around this time when I began reading more economics, and discovered that given today’s diluted definition of conservatism, I aligned myself more with libertarianism.
Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
Many libertarians find their roots in the laws of economics and a belief in the efficiency of the free market. For me, the starting point was Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. It is used as a textbook for college students, but I found it at a used book store after being recommended it by an old recording engineer I was working with at the time.
Everything was laid out in the simplest of terms. There were no charts or graphs, and no hard to remember fancy economic equations. It’s written in plain English. Sowell believed that economics was such an important subject that it shouldn’t be limited to intellectuals to discuss.
I learned about how the price system works, the failings of price controls, how international trade works, and how the free market deals with monopolies and businesses that do not serve the interests of their customers. Without this book, I wouldn’t have even gotten into economics as a subject, and likely wouldn’t have delved into political commentary.
I read Sowell, and began to listen to more conservative talk radio. Yes, Sowell, for me, proceeded Rush Limbaugh. Along with Rush came the other prominent talk radio hosts which included Mark Levin. Levin turned me onto this guy Friedrich Hayek…
The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek
Hayek fled fascism in Austria and came to Britain, and later to America, teaching at the prestigious University of Chicago. Given where he came from, and what he escaped, his prominent work The Road to Serfdom, is a crucial piece of reading for anyone.
Not only was Hayek a Nobel Prize winning economist, but he also wrote about exactly how government grows and how it can become tyrannical if not kept in check.
This book showed me how small incremental assaults on liberty will eventually lead to a tyrannical government like the governments seen in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Hayek pointed out what is not seen in modern times – the horrors of the collectivist right.
I had read Sowell and Hayek. A wonderful habit I have is not just reading one person’s writings, but then reading the writings of the people who influenced them. Milton Friedman was not only a colleague of Hayek at the University of Chicago, but a teacher of Thomas Sowell.
It was around this time when I first picked up…
Free to Choose by Milton Friedman
Not only was Friedman a brilliant economist, but he (like Sowell) made the subject understandable to the layman, with his Free to Choose PBS programs, which featured debates and conversations with those advocating socialism and their libertarian opponents.
Free to Choose is Friedman’s most popular book, and showed how the free market provided solutions to America’s most pressing problems at the time (which we’re still debating today). Friedman advocated school choice, and has been widely cited by folks who wish to allow competition in the realm of education.
He showed how liberty and the free market provides real solutions to nearly every problem. Friedman wasn’t an anarchist by any means, and even supported the Federal Reserve and his own “monetarist” monetary policy, but continued the assault on the belief that government can solve our problems.
I love book stores! Whenever I leave one, I walk out with an armful of books. I pick up and read the jackets of far more than that. One time at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy of…
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
Just the cover and back of the book featured outstanding praise from Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. I knew this was a book that I should be reading. Over 1 million people have bought it, and discovered that economics is as simple as Hazlitt’s lesson.
The difference between good economists and bad ones, is whether they look at the immediate effects of a policy on a limited group, or the long term effects on all groups. This one lesson has guided my beliefs on so many issues, and caused me to question policies which on the face I would agree with, but after further analysis I had to oppose.
Even though much of this book is touched on in Sowell’s works, it is still the first book I recommend to people interested in economics. It dispels with the myths of minimum wage laws, tariffs, and the “curse of machinery”.
All of this was well and good, but the one area where conservatives and libertarians most often disagree is foreign policy. Conservatives tend to accept America being a global force, while libertarians prefer non-interventionism. Although I was at one time a Ron Paul hater, after reading this book, I finally understood his positions, and they made sense.
The Revolution by Ron Paul
Ron touches on every important issue in this book, and explains his positions clearly. I would challenge those who think he’s just a libertarian cook to actually read this book and fully digest it.
First, he makes the case that we have a false choice in politics. Either you’re in favor of economic freedom (Republican) or in favor of personal freedom (Democrat). The consistent position is to be in favor of freedom in both spheres.
Ron Paul makes his case from an economic perspective, as well as a Constitutional perspective, which spoke to me a lot. I believe that politicians should follow the Constitution. The Founding Fathers also gave us great insight into foreign policy. This book showed me that America was founded more on libertarian ideas than modern day conservative ideas. Ron Paul resembles Thomas Jefferson more than John McCain does.
All of these books pushed me in the direction of limited government, and showed me that if I stuck to my principles, I opposed large government. Conservatives, at least the people in public office who claim that title, don’t. If you believe in limited government – guess what – “conservative” no longer defines you. You’re like me! You’re a libertarian!