In the contest between freedom and the state, freedom won. Capitalism triumphed both here and abroad, while statism failed in Cuba, Russia, England, Sweden, North Korea and virtually every other place on the globe where enlightened rulers thought they could substitute their wisdom for that of free markets.
Nobody bothered to tell the Modern Library.
Last month this division of Random House announced its “100 Best” nonfiction works of the century about to close. In doing so its panel of experts displayed a startling lack of appreciation for revealed economic truths, not to mention for the tides of history.
Among the biggest surprises was its selection of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as the fifth best English nonfiction work of the century. Carson’s 1962 work touched off the modern environmental movement and Vice President Al Gore has bragged about the photo of Carson he displays in his office.
Carson is the godmother of a movement which believes the earth is sick, poisoned by chemicals and toxins; plagued by overpopulation, deforestation, scarcity of resources and many other Ailments. The culprit? Mankind. The solution? Massive government controls.
But since she wrote that book, the places which have eschewed the draconian environmental policies the greens demanded have experienced thriving economies accompanied by an increasingly healthy environment.
Left-wing works on politics and economics are heavily represented on the Modern Library’s list. John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” ranks number 10. Also on the list are John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society,” John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice,” Studs Terkel’s “Working!’ Lionel Milling’s “The Liberal Imagination,” and “Religion and the Rise of Capi- talism,” by Christian Socialist historian R. H. Tawney
But virtually none of the important conservative or free-market works of the 20th-century can be found on the list. Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative,” for instance, touched off a movement every bit as powerful and successful as the environmental movement. But its call for limited government and personal responsibility did not sit well with the Modern Library.
There is no indication the board members who selected the 100 Best have any conception of free-market economics. Keynesian economics, the idea that economic health can be conjured up by the best and brightest with their hands on the levers of government, has been discredited. The economics of freedom have prevailed, both intellectually and in practice.
So why is there not one free-market book on the Modern Library list? Missing are several popular and important books in the free-market canon which would seem to deserve a spot on any list of the best nonfiction works of the century.
F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” gave warning about the dangers of state control over the economy. Dedicated in 1944 to Socialists of all parties, it sounded a lonely herald about the evils of socialism then seducing much of the world. As much as anyone, Hayek helped introduce the freedom-based ideas of the Austrian school of economic thought to English-speaking audiences. The “Road to Serfdom” opened the eyes of many to the fact that German Nazism and Soviet Communism were essentially the same thing.
Two other monumental works on economics — these by Americans — missed inclusion by the Modern Library One is Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson,” published just two years after Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom!’ Steve Forbes hailed it “a book on economics so powerful in its clarity and simplicity that we can declare, without question, it has shaped our world?’ Hazlitt helped educate millions of readers about fundamental economic truths, and warned why the conventional, Keynesian wisdom on economics was suspect.
The other book is “Free to Choose” by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his wife Rose. Writing with stunning clarity, the Friedmans promulgated the idea that freedom and prosperity are incontrovertibly linked. The book was a national bestseller and accompanied a wildly popular PBS series, making the Friedmans perhaps America’s best-known economists.
The great showdown of the 20th-century between communism and freedom generally was ignored by the Modern Library America’s Cold War with the Soviets defined the post-World War II period, but the Modern Library didn’t notice.
How else to explain the absence of Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness?” Or Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror?”
However skewed its logic, Keynes’ “General Theory” did dominate economic thinking in this country up until the 1980s. Its inclu- sion on the list is understandable. Same with “Silent Spring” (though not at number 5) and perhaps some of the other left-wing books. What can’t be understood, however, is the blackballing of viewpoints which contradict them.