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By Nick Schulz : BIO| 20 Nov 2020
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The New York Times' David Brooks, writing on the death of Milton Friedman, recently said:

"[Friedman's] passing is sad for many reasons. One is that from the 1940s to the mid-1990s, American political life was shaped by a series of landmark books: 'Witness,' 'The Vital Center,' 'Capitalism and Freedom,' 'The Death and Life of American Cities,' 'The Closing of the American Mind.' Then in the 1990s, those big books stopped coming. Now instead of books, we have blogs.

"The big books stopped coming partly because the distinction between intellectual movements and political parties broke down. Friedman was never interested in partisan politics but was deeply engaged in policy. Today, team loyalty has taken over the wonk's world, so there are invisible boundaries that mark politically useful, and therefore socially acceptable, thought."

This assertion struck a chord since "Witness" was the first book my parents gave me for Christmas that wasn't authored by Theodor Geisel or Jean du Brunhoff (yes, I was a red-baiter-diaper baby). But the notion that there are no big books anymore is a lament I hear not just from Brooks but from younger and less established writers and thinkers as well. Is it true?

Brooks also asserts that "growing evidence suggests average workers are not seeing the benefits of their productivity gains--that the market is broken and requires heavy government correction. Friedman's heirs have been avoiding this debate. They're losing it badly and have offered no concrete remedies to address the problem, if it is one."

Claims like those made by Brooks are designed to elicit a response. So here I take the bait.

The following list reflects my biases as being interested in political economy and notions of justice and fairness as they relate to economic dynamism. Not all of the authors are Friedman's heirs and not all of them speak directly to concerns over inequality -- although most of them do either directly or tangentially. Either way, these books are "big" and important and our political debates would benefit if greater attention is paid to them. All of them have appeared in the last 15 years. They are not in any particular order of importance.

Brink Lindsey, Against the Dead Hand

Robert Shiller The New Financial Order

Robert Fogel, The Escape From Hunger and Premature Death

William Lewis, The Power of Productivity

Joel Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena

Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches

Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies

William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth

Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, The Bell Curve

Charles Murray, What It Means to Be a Libertarian

Charles Murray, In Our Hands

Arnold Kling, Learning Economics

Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

CK Prahalad, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Deirdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics For an Age of Commerce

Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist

Jerry Muller, The Mind and the Market

Richard Thaler, The Winner's Curse

David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel

Michael Cox, Richard Alm, Myths of Rich and Poor

Jonathan Rauch, Demosclerosis

Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter (forthcoming)

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near

Andy Kessler, How We Got Here

Carl Schramm, The Entrepreneurial Imperative

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire

One thing that Brooks does better than most columnists today is push his readers to think more deeply and challenge them to look for answers to problems he raises. It's what all good columnists should do, rather than try to shove answers and opinions down readers' throats. I know I am missing a few, but this list of books is a good place to start to understand some of the concerns Brooks raises.

Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't add Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. That's another big book. Now all Brooks needs to do is start blogging.

The author is editor of TCSDaily.com and a Contributing Editor to The American, a magazine debuting this week. If you have suggestions for books he missed, email him at nschulz@tcsdaily.com.

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