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John Stossel: Liberty gifts

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, 8:03 p.m.
Atlas Shrugged cover
Atlas Shrugged cover

Struggling to find gifts to get for loved ones? How about a book?

First, Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” recounts how government trying to centrally plan an economy often leads to tyranny.

Government shouldn’t intervene, wrote Hayek, because a free market, like a school of fish or a flock of birds, creates a spontaneous order. No central planner will allocate resources as efficiently as individuals do themselves.

For arguing that, Hayek was ridiculed. But, years later, even defenders of socialism conceded that he was right.

With “democratic socialism” newly popular and celebrities like Jim Carrey saying, “We have to say yes to socialism — to the word and everything!” today is a great time to give “Road to Serfdom” to your socialist friends.

If only they’d read it … .

Of course, “Road to Serfdom” is written in old-fashioned language that some people find tough going. A simpler, more America-focused book from which to learn about economics is Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics.”

Sowell writes in plain English, without graphs or equations. Not only will Sowell educate your socialist friends, he’ll show Donald Trump fans why free trade is good.

Prefer fiction?

How about “Animal Farm”? George Orwell describes how farm animals revolt against an abusive human master — only to end up ruled by new tyrants, the pigs. “Animal Farm” was meant to be an allegory for the Russian revolution turning into Soviet tyranny, but it could just as easily apply to today’s America if populists get their way.

Another fun read is Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s long — more than a thousand pages — but easy reading because the novel pulls you along, describing how cultural bias against capitalism and love of big government grows.

Rand depicts creeping government oppression so convincingly that it feels like she’s describing America today.

Rand argues that government isn’t just inefficient; it’s evil because it violates property rights and tells people how to live their lives. Government is like a looter or burglar, she wrote.

Today’s media, by contrast, call capitalists looters and burglars. Years ago, the media called the most successful of them “robber barons.”

A book by Burton W. Folsom, “Myth of the Robber Barons,” debunks those myths. It explains that capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt were neither robbers nor barons. They were not born rich, and they did not get rich by robbing people. They got rich by creating better things.

Rockefeller lowered the price of kerosene so much that it allowed poor people to read at night.

He probably even “saved the whales.” That’s because once Rockefeller made oil cheap, killing whales to get whale oil was no longer profitable. Bet your kids won’t learn that in environmental studies class.

“Robber baron” Vanderbilt didn’t rob people. He made steamship travel faster and cheaper. It was jealous competitors who called him a “robber baron” because he charged lower prices than they did. The ignorant media picked up the term, and it stuck.

Finally, another great introduction to freedom is the book “Free to Choose,” in which Milton and Rose Friedman explain how limiting government creates prosperity.

Friedman reportedly joked that if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.

In the TV series accompanying “Free to Choose” he argued, “We somehow or other have to find a way to prevent government from continuing to grow and continuing to take over more and more control over our lives.”

Well, we’ve failed at that!

But at Stossel TV, we won’t quit trying. Those books should help.

I hope my columns help a little bit, too. Happy holidays!

John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”

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