An Economics Reading List

Bastiat, Frederic,
Economic Sophisms

Blue Ribbon, Top Econlib Pick

    • Bastiat is free trade’s greatest popularizer. This book collects his principal essays exposing the flaws that infect all arguments against free trade. This book contains dozens of Bastiat’s most lively essays. If you are looking for just one to sample, try his classic candle-making satire:

Chapter 7, A Petition.

      • Each essay is short, witty, clear, and focused on a particular fallacy. Bastiat’s critique of dozes of arguments for tariffs and other import restrictions is devastating.

    Economic Sophisms

      • also provides a superb lesson in persuasive writing. Noted for his mastery of the

    reductio ad absurdum, 

      • Bastiat excelled across the board in writing both to persuade and to teach.

Caves, Richard, Jeffrey Frankel and Ronald Jones, World Trade and Payments: An Introduction Difficulty Level 1: College

Hume, David, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, (Part II was originally published as Political Discourses) Difficulty Level 1: College

Irwin, Douglas, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade

    • This is book is not so much a brief for free trade as it is a scholarly survey of the history of
      economic thought on the topic. Irwin’s book uncovers the contexts, the motivations, and the trains of thought that led economists to develop the case for free trade.
    • To truly understand the case for free trade requires knowledge of the development of the economic theories supporting free trade—as well as of those theories in opposition to free trade- and of the historical context of those theories. Irwin lucidly reviews all these.

Johnson, Harry, Aspects of the Theory of Tariffs

Leggett, William, Democratick Editorials, particularly Part V, The Principles of Free Trade.

Mundell, Robert, International Economics

Paul, Ellen Frankel, “Laissez Faire in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Fact or Myth?” Literature of Liberty, 1980.

Brief Review

Ricardo, David, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

Brief Review

Roberts, Russell, The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism. Please see our Reading Guide for this tile here.

    • This book provides a powerful case for free trade—the most powerful and persuasive case written during the past century and a half. It achieves this goal on at least two different levels. First, the writing is crystal clear. Roberts teaches almost all of a basic course on international trade economics in just over 100 pages of engaging, charming, and compelling text.


Say, Jean Baptiste, A Treatise on Political Economy Difficulty Level 1: College

Taussig, Frank W., Some Aspects of the Tariff Question, 1915

    • Debates about free trade between opposing parties often deteriorate into frustration because of a lack of facts. Frank Taussig clarified the debates with an open mind, and confronted such questions as comparative advantage, protectionism, the “young” or “infant industry argument,” and dumping. He fearlessly summarized the economic issues on both sides, and then meticulously analyzed the history of three heavily protected industries: sugar, iron and steel, and textiles to see how the facts contributed to these economic debates.

Taussig’s combination of careful-yet-entertaining-to-read research is both inspiring and convincing. In only one small case, that of a limited portion of the silk industry, can the facts be construed as supporting protectionism in any form (in this case, the infant-industry argument). The moral of his many case studies was that what the United States does well is to invent time- and labor-saving machines (does the computer revolution of the latter 1900s ring a bell?); and that these advances were the results of comparative advantage, not protection of young industries or a young nation. Taussig’s enthusiastic research remains a model of what industry studies in economics should be: not mere tales of this or that company or technological advance, but fascinating presentations that filter through the morass of history, politics, and data to address the economic questions at hand. Difficulty Level 2: Graduate school

Additional works of interest:

“Tariff,” an article in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica by Frank W. Taussig

John Stuart Mill: Various works.

        • The infant-industry (“young industry”) argument Taussig addressed was first articulated by Mill. See, in particular, Mill’s


Helen Brooke Taussig,

    • Frank Taussig’s daughter Helen was as famous as he was. Read about her research and unraveling of the “blue baby syndrome.”