September 30, 2009
Think Globally, Act Locally: References and Readings (Revised)

I spoke as part of a faculty panel last night on thinking globally and acting locally. I've updated the list-o-links I assembled a a couple of weeks ago in light of our discussion; an updated list is below the fold.

Here are some links and readings on which I'm basing my remarks at the "Think Globally, Act Locally" faculty panel at Rhodes on September 29:

-1. Update 2: Here's Steven Pinker on violence, with a link to his TED talk on the history of violence.

0. Update: Doug MacKenzie points out that I omitted this. Markets allow us to think locally and act globally.

1. Here's my take on calculation, action, and cost-benefit analysis. Calculation is a part of action; it is the nature of choice to compare costs and benefits, even though these aren't always expressed in narrow monetary terms.

2. Here's my Forbes.com article on how we can use economics to think about the environment. Here's the paper on which the article is based.

3. One of my favorite essays is Steve Horwitz's "Ought Implies Can," which discusses the intersection between economics and ethics. Here's a quote that summarizes his point:

"It might be more accurate to say that ethicists ignore economics than that economists ignore ethics. To the extent that good economics shows what we can and cannot do with social policy, it is engaged with ethics. After all, if the point of saying we ought to do X is that we think it will achieve some set of morally desirable goals, then knowing whether or not doing X will actually achieve those goals is, or at least should be, a key part of moral inquiry."

4. Here's the Cingranelli-Richards Human Rights Dataset. Bob Lawson and I are using these data to examine the relationship between economic liberalization and human rights abuses. Contrary to popular belief and consistent with Deirdre McCloskey's claims about Bourgeois Virtue, we find that increasing economic freedom reduces the frequency of human rights abuses as measured a variety of different ways. This is also consistent with a mountain of experimental evidence suggesting that people who are exposed to markets are more likely to act in ways consistent with our conventional understandings of fairness and justice and less likely to be opportunistic.

5. Here's what I wrote a few months ago about what we can learn about current economic conditions by reading Marx. In two words, not much. If you're looking for wide-ranging systematic thinkers from whose writings we can glean genuine insight about economic change, I recommend Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek. Unlike Marx, they got the economics right.

6. Speaking of Mises, here's his magnum opus, Human Action (available for zero-price download). Here's Jorg-Guido Huelsmann's magisterial biography of Mises, also available for zero-price download (link is to PDF). I'm re-reading Human Action for the first time since my first year of graduate school, and it takes on a whole new meaning after reading Huelsmann's biography.

7. The Liberty Fund's Library of Economics and Liberty is a one-stop shop for online editions of works by Mises, Hayek, Adam Smith, James Buchanan (see especially his excellent Cost and Choice), and tons of others.

8. On her blog, Doctor J mentioned that the "real and significant ideological differences between the panelists" was one of the virtues of the discussion. I whole-heartedly agree, and that's one of the reasons I found it so challenging and enlightening. It was the essence of what Thomas Sowell calls A Conflict of Visions, which is the title of a book I assign on the first few days of econ 101. After scanning the bookshelves in my office and at home, here's a partial list of books that have contributed to my worldview and that form the basis of some of my remarks last night: Sowell's The Quest for Cosmic Justice and The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, F.A. Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Paul Heyne's "Are Economists Basically Immoral?" and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion, Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near, Jim Powell's FDR's Folly (which goes well with Atlas Shrugged), Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies, Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter, Murray Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market (zero-price PDF here), William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth and The White Man's Burden, and Hernando de Soto's The Mystery of Capital.

Rhodes students and faculty: I've reviewed a handful of these for scholarly journals; when I get to the office, I will put the reviews in my public folder on the academic fileserver in a folder labeled "Book Reviews."

And now, here's the original list of recommendations I posted on 9/18:

1. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. Rand demonstrates a clear understanding of the unintended consequences of policies and actions, and she shows in detail how intentions do not translate into outcomes.

2. Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. Hayek argues that interventionism kills liberalism and leads to totalitarianism.

3. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman shows how economic freedom is consistent with and indeed essential to human flourishing. Before you reach for your copy of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine to support your claim that Friedman is "The Proud Father of Global Misery," read my essay on The Shock Doctrine and Tyler Cowen's review.

4. Lant Pritchett, Let Their People Come. The entire book can be downloaded here. This book convinced me that removing restrictions on free immigration is not just a good idea but a moral imperative.

5. Frederic Bastiat, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen" and The Law (online, PDF, audio). Bastiat is an economist, journalist, and polemicist who is the originator of the "broken window fallacy."

6. Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. Hazlitt's book is a series of lessons drawn from Bastiat's central insight.

7. Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (online, PDF). This is a greatly-expanded exploration of Mises's argument that rational economic calculation under socialism is impossible.

8. Deirdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (Google Books, PDF of rough draft). The first sixty pages are essential; McCloskey surveys how bourgeois capitalism has not just made us richer, but better and more ethical.

8. Art Carden and Josh Hall, "Why Are Some Places Rich While Others are Poor? The Institutional Necessity of Economic Freedom." We discuss the definition of economic institutions and the role of economic freedom in creating prosperity. I discuss the relationship between foreign aid and economic growth in this paper.

9. My Mises.org audio archive. I gave five lectures at Mises U: Production and the Firm, Environmental and Resource Economics, Common Objections to Capitalism, Consumer Product Regulation, and Short Selling: Explanation and Defense.

10. Links from my lectures at IHS and Mises University this past summer. The Mises U links in particular deal with environmental issues.

11. My "Blog Action Day: Poverty" entry from last year.

12. Lynne Kiesling's excellent discussion of the "man of system" passage in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:42 AM in Economics

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