Sometimes I’m asked to recommend economics books for people. This is hardly a chore, because recommending books is one of my favorite things to do.
Mike Rowe will tell you the book to read above all others is Economics in One Lesson, the masterpiece written by FEE alumnus Henry Hazlitt.* I really can’t argue with Mr. Rowe on this score, because Hazlitt’s book is indeed a wonderful and engaging text.
The book I usually recommend, however, is Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, which has the benefit of being both a wonderful introductory text but also a book that even professional economists will appreciate. (Sowell, much like Hazlitt, is a talented writer and storyteller, which—let’s face it—is something many great economists are not.)
Basic Economics isn’t crammed with models and jargon, but instead uses historical examples that demonstrate how economics works in action and how good and bad incentives shape our world. It’s the book that opened my eyes and helped me understand how wealth is created through markets. It’s the book that helped me grasp why poverty and dysfunction persist even in wealthy countries. It’s the book that convinced me virtually all of these economic problems would be solved if people simply read the evidence Sowell presents and allowed the free market to operate.
Over the years, I can’t even count how many people I’ve recommended Basic Economics to. For others, I’ve loaned the book to them or even purchased them a copy. How many actually read the book I can’t say, though my hunch is the number is small.
This would be a shame, but I’m not done trying. After all, perhaps people just need a better plug for Sowell’s book. If that’s the case, Mike Tyson may very well be the guy.
Mike Tyson is reading Thomas Sowell's classic "Basic Economics." I can't wrap my head around that... pic.twitter.com/S3sG5BKHYV— Jarrett Skorup (@JarrettSkorup) April 22, 2022
The former heavyweight boxing champion was photographed holding Sowell’s book shortly after he landed in Miami, where he was slated as the main speaker at the Benzinga Cannabis Conference. In photos published by the New York Post, “Iron Make” can be seen posing for a selfie with a fan, with Sowell’s book tucked under his arm.
Basic Economics now stands as the #1 bestseller in Amazon’s business education section.
More than 20 years after its release, Basic Economics is topping Amazon’s bestseller charts, while Klaus Schwab’s book COVID-19: The Great Reset is tenth.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about this is that Sowell himself will tell you the legacy media has made a habit of ignoring his work.
“They simply keep quiet when I come out with a book,” Sowell once noted in an interview.
James Higgins of the Claremont Institute, in a 2003 review of Basic Economics, sheds light on why legacy media tend to give Sowell’s works such a chilly reception.
“Economic illiteracy is the rule rather than the exception in popular media, even in publications that promote themselves as media ‘of record,’” Higgins noted. “Such economic illogic and illiteracy are Sowell's target in this volume, and he scores a bullseye. Anyone who hasn't studied economics formally should read Basic Economics to learn it in a logical, straightforward way.”
Higgins is right.
Unfortunately, economic illiteracy has only gotten worse over the last 20 years—which is why it’s so encouraging to see copies of Basic Economics selling like crazy.
No book is a better antidote to economic illiteracy, and I suspect Sowell is more than happy to take an assist from Iron Mike.