Book Reviews

Nothing to Fear from New Technologies If the Market Is Free

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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (W.W. Norton & Company 2014), 320 pages. The subject of this book is the “second machine age,” in which “computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand ... [click for more]

Why Doesn’t Democracy Work?

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Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter by Ilya Somin (Stanford University Press 2013), 280 pages. In Democracy and Political Ignorance, law professor Ilya Somin looks down into the apparently fathomless depth of voter ignorance and concludes that dividing and decentralizing the power of the federal government can alleviate many of the ills attending such ignorance. Somin ... [click for more]

Ignoring the Difference between Free markets and State Capitalism

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (Belknap 2014), 696 pages. The basic phenomenon that Thomas Piketty devotes this book to describing is simple: “When the rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy..., then it logically follows that inherited wealth grows faster than output and income.” His historical account ... [click for more]

“Both Together, They Made a Very Good Book”

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The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right by Yuval Levin (Basic Books 2014), 235 pages. Yuval Levin’s well-written Great Debate is full of useful material, understandable explanation, and interesting reflections. It flows along smoothly and even entertainingly, unless that is a cuss word in serious circles. Levin goes through the Burke-Paine controversy ... [click for more]

Reining In Out-of-Control Government

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The Classical Liberal Constitution by Richard A. Epstein (Harvard University Press 2014), 701 pages. In Book II of his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke says “that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” A towering figure in the Enlightenment, Locke is often called the father of classical ... [click for more]

How Laws Are Passed, Maintained, and Changed

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Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change by Wayne A. Leighton and Edward J. Lopez (Stanford Economics and Finance 2013), 209 pages. Have you ever wondered why democracies so often generate public policies that are wasteful and unjust? Have you asked why such policies persist over long periods, even when they are known to ... [click for more]

How the Pentagon Really Gets Funded

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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert Gates (Knop 2014), 640 pages. The most interesting parts of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty, are about how he navigated the Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucracy and the special interests who live off it. A recurring theme is the difficulty Gates had in getting the DoD ... [click for more]

Government-Rigged Markets

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Crony Capitalism in America 2008 – 2012 by Hunter Lewis (AC2 Books 2013), 399 pages. Ayn Rand called it “the aristocracy of pull.” That was her term for the political-economic system in which people can get ahead (and even become exceptionally wealthy) by virtue of their connections with those in power, rather than by their work, innovations, and ... [click for more]

The Worst Government Crimes

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Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books 2010), 560 pages. We can locate the deadliest place and time in world history, certainly for the modern West, in the stretch of land between Berlin and Moscow in the 1930s and 1940s. That setting hosted an unimaginable bloodbath thanks to the worst killers ever to plague Europe — ... [click for more]

The Poverty of Top- Down Anti-Poverty Efforts

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The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk (Doubleday 2012), 272 pages. In the idealist, the system-building visionary, there is a certain natural attractiveness, a gravitational pull centered on the strength of his convictions. We desire to be a part of his crusade, or at least to root it on, because we admire the ... [click for more]

A Conservative Dissents from the Corporate Status Quo

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The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America by David A. Stockman, (Public Affairs 2013), 768 pages. Most leftist critiques of libertarianism focus on an alleged blind defense of corporate power. Indeed, left-libertarian Kevin Carson has helpfully criticized the very real problem of “vulgar libertarianism,” the working assumption that current economic realities are a product of free-market dynamics ... [click for more]

The Economics of Foreign Policy

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Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails by Christopher Coyne (Stanford Economics and Finance 2013), 272 pages. In the aftermath of the carnage wrought by World War II, Harry Truman committed America to humanitarian action. In his 1949 inaugural address, he pledged to “continue our programs for world economic recovery” and “embark on a bold new ... [click for more]
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