Marilynne Robinson: Capitalism or Freedom?

From Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Picador –Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)

Having just quoted Walt Whitman, she writes:

We now live in a political environment characterized by wolfishness and filled with blather. We have the passive pious, who feel they have proved their moral refinement in declaring the whole enterprise bankrupt, and we have the active pious, who agree with them, with the difference that they see some hope in a hastily arranged liquidation of cultural assets. (x)

The key words at the end are “the secondary consequences of the progress of freedom” (my italics) . . .

I know that there are numberless acts of generosity, moral as well as material, carried out among [America’s] people every hour of the day. But the language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory. On both sides the sole motive force in our past is now said to have been capitalism. On both sides capitalism is understood as grasping materialism that has somehow or other yielded the comforts and liberties of modern life. . . .

What if good institutions were in fact the product of good intentions? What if the cynicism that is supposed to be rigor and the acquisitiveness that is supposed to be realism are making us forget the origins of the greatness we lay claim to — power and wealth as secondary consequences of the progress of freedom? (xiv-xv, italics added)

(The link above is to the book at my Amazon store, where purchases support this site. However, libraries and fine local bookstores are also wonderful things. The chief thing is to read.)

Basic Economics for Ordinary People

To be well informed, the average citizen doesn’t have to digest thick, heavy economics textbooks which are full of calculus. That’s the good news. Here’s the better news: there are some superb explanations of economics in very readable books, with little or no math. Here are some of the best I’ve found.

Links are to my Amazon store, in case you want to buy a book for yourself, a loved one, or your local library. Your purchase helps support this site.

These two books by Thomas Sowell, studied in order, form a superb introduction to economics and economic policy. Sowell is a master at explaining things without delving into difficult math — or much math at all, really. These are the first two books I recommend for any citizen who wants to understand economics sufficiently to comprehend current issues and to help a nation to remain free. They are surprisingly pleasant reading.

Others have recommended this introductory work; it’s in my pile of books to read:

I highly recommend this classic explanation of capitalism — that is, economic freedom:

Further suggestions are welcome, as are your thoughts on these books.