I recently saw a list of Ten Books Every Libertarian Should Read on the website of the Adam Smith Institute, which did not include the one book I consider to be (by far) the most important for every libertarian to read.
I am talking about The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman.
The book shows that libertarianism cannot be stated as a simple and convincing moral principle from which everything else follows. Instead, economic analysis is used to arrive at libertarian conclusions.
The obvious way to find out what the laws of a society ought to be is to start with general principles of justice and see what laws are necessary to implement them. David Friedman argues that that cannot be done and gives a long list of questions which cannot be answered using libertarian principles. For example, libertarian principles of justice provide no way of deciding what ought to be included in property rights, how they may legitimately be defended, or how violations ought to be punished.
Friedman argues that, while libertarian principles provide no answer to the relevant questions, they are all questions that can, at least in principle, be answered by using economic theory to discover what rules maximize human happiness.
Friedman shows that a system in which legal rules are generated by firms competing in a private market can be expected to produce efficient rules and goes on to use the tools of economic analysis to show under what circumstances such a legal system would or would not be stable.
The reason why, in my opinion, The Machinery of Freedom is the most important book to read for a libertarian is this application of economics to the field of law.
So, if you are a libertarian, go and read The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman. And if you aren’t a libertarian, still read it. It’s stellar economics and a hell of a lot of fun to read.