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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Benjamin Weingarten

Benjamin Weingarten
Publishing Manager at The Blaze

Man seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It is capitalism—the natural extension of individual liberty—that has allowed man to achieve ever-greater measures of the former with ever-diminishing amounts of the latter. Yet man has begun to take material progress for granted as if inevitable, when in fact most of history has been marked by man’s slaving away in poverty. Today the state continues to grow while the individual shrinks. My suggestions are made in this light, with the underlying belief that it is virtuous individuals working freely in voluntary harmony that allow all of society to flourish. Man’s labor is an essential part of man’s being, and to restrict his ability to work freely and prosper is to restrict not just man but society itself.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957). The brilliance of Atlas Shrugged lies in its prescience. Ayn Rand, who herself knew all too well the horrors of totalitarian government having escaped from the Soviet Union, wrote the book as a celebration of the individual and a strong rebuke of all forms of statism. In the dystopian America of Atlas Shrugged, those who espouse and reflect beliefs in entrepreneurship, hard work and merit are countered by eerily familiar foils who seek to destroy out of greed and envy those who embody such traits, to the detriment of all. At a certain point, the hyper-regulatory state that protects political entrepreneurs (or crony capitalists) at the expense of market entrepreneurs stifles man’s ability to achieve to such an extent that the productive choose to leave society altogether, with drastic and devastating consequences. Rand’s book reads as both a remarkable prediction of the “Great Recession,” and explication of the Aristotelian view that happiness lies in our ability to self-actualize through our work—through converting our thoughts into purposeful action.

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (1979). In Economics in One Lesson, one of the great introductions to free-market economics, prolific journalist, economist and foe of all things Keynesian Henry Hazlitt provides a simple but comprehensive work on the merits of capitalism over statism, presented largely through pithy reductio ad absurdum arguments. Hazlitt’s book frames economics through the “Parable of the Broken Window”—following in French economist Frederic Bastiat’s footsteps—in delineating between the “seen” perceived benefits of government actions and the “unseen” people hurt by such actions, which the wise economist must always discern. Hazlitt argues unabashedly for free enterprise, including the right to contract for work and free and dynamic labor markets more broadly, to the benefit of consumers and producers alike. This is a book that will enhance the economic literacy of every American, both young and old.

Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, The Federalist Papers (1788). Read the Federalist Papers to understand the crucial issues the founders grappled with in drafting the Constitution, and the system they intended in their own words. Implicit in the vision promulgated is the belief in protecting the individual against the state, thus enabling peace and prosperity and ensuring man’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Man’s ability to create and enjoy the fruits of his labor, through mutually beneficial and voluntary transactions, is an integral part of this vision. The Anti-Federalist Papers are also well worth a read, as they anticipate many of the now-apparent defects and loopholes in the system created by the fallible but exceptional founders.

Benjamin Weingarten is Publishing Manager at The Blaze.

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