It is hard to come up with Christmas gifts for people who already seem to have everything. But there are few — if any — people who can keep up with the flood of books coming off the presses. Books can be good gifts for such people.
Of the books I read this year, the one that made the biggest impact on me was New Deal or Raw Deal? by Burton Folsom Jr., a professor at Hillsdale College. It was that rare kind of book, one thoroughly researched by a scholar and yet written in plain language, readily understood by anyone.
So many myths and legends glorifying Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal administration have become part of folklore that a dose of cold facts is very much needed.
The next time someone repeats one of the many myths about FDR, or tries to use the New Deal as a model of how we should try to solve current economic problems, readers of this book will have the hard, documented facts with which to shoot those claims down.
Another book by the same author was published this year — the sixth edition of The Myth of the Robber Barons. When I have asked people, “Just whom did the robber barons rob?” I have never gotten an answer. This book shows why.
Apparently the real sin of the so-called “robber barons,” like that of Wal-Mart today, is that they charged lower prices than their competitors, many of whom went out of business because they were not efficient enough to be able to bring down their own prices.
A book more focused on our contemporary culture is Spoilt Rotten! by Theodore Dalrymple. Its subtitle gives its theme: “The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality.” Dr. Dalrymple sees sentimentality as not just a silly foible but as a serious danger to government policy making, as well as a corruption of personal relations.
The New York Times is not just another newspaper. It has long been a major influence on the rest of the media and on public opinion, so its degeneration into a propaganda publication in recent years is a national tragedy. McGowan spells it all out in plain words and with numerous examples.
The fact that the New York Times has lost both circulation and credibility is its own problem. The fact that America has lost a once-reliable source of news is a national problem.
I don’t usually read autobiographical books, but two very good ones came out this year. My favorite is Up from the Projects, by economist, columnist, and personal friend Walter Williams. It is a small book with a big punch. Once you start reading it, it is hard to put down.
Up from the Projects is not only a remarkable story of a remarkable man’s life, it is the story of both progress and retrogression in the black community. Everyone wants to take credit for the progress, but nobody wants to take the blame for the retrogression.
An even smaller book by a very different man in very different circumstances is Inside the Nixon Administration: The Secret Diary of Arthur Burns, 1969-1974. Distinguished economist Arthur F. Burns was chairman of the Federal Reserve System in those years, and these posthumous excerpts from his diary paint a chilling picture of the irresponsibility, vanity, dishonesty, and incompetence in the Nixon White House.
This book is not just about the Nixon administration, however. It is about the ugly realities of politics behind the pious talk of “public service.” And it is about what it means to have a very strange man as President of the United States — something that is all too relevant to our own times.
My new books this year are Intellectuals and Society, an account of another strange and dangerous group of people, and the fourth edition of Basic Economics, which is more than twice as large as the first edition. It has been putting on weight over the years, like its author, but the weight is muscle in the case of the book.
Basic Economics has sold more copies and been translated into more foreign languages than any of my other books. Apparently there are a lot of people who want to understand economics without having to wade through graphs and equations.