In no particular order, here are the best five books that I read in 2015. These are the ones that taught me the most or that were key in my intellectual development. All these books are highly recommended. (2014’s list is here and 2013’s list is here.)
Philipp Bagus became one of my favorite economists this year. A very orthodox Misesian, Bagus has a fantastic ability to apply the Austrian view of business cycles, money, and banking to real world phenomenon such as the Icelandic financial crisis and also, as in this volume, the history and development of the Euro. Bagus has written a fantastic overview of the Euro that is almost comparable to the several things Murray Rothbard has written on the history and nature of the Federal Reserve system in the United States. In fact, Bagus even has a really interesting section comparing the similarities and differences between the Euro and the Fed. Ultimately, the Euro is a failed project; a centralization of money and banking in part of Europe. Bagus explains how the system encourages booms and busts, how default and sovereign debt crises are inevitable, and even the political machinations involved the creation and maintenance of this crony currency system.
As most of my readers are aware, I am an investment advisor. What fewer probably know, however, is that I have found most of my professional interest in the much smaller niche of wealth preservation strategies for high net worth families. As such, this book really opened my eyes to the approach that must be taken in regards to family legacy planning. One of the things that really struck me was how, compared to most family planning that is proud of itself for looking ahead 25 years, Hughes emphasizes four-generation 100 year strategies. This requires much more involved family members, investing in people (not just “the stock market”), their emotions, their financial education (which is not taught in school), and their various and specific problems. It really taught me how to look beyond the immediate and into the far out future. In other words, pursuing a lasting family wealth is a way of life, not purchasing the right financial products.
Nietzsche was a very interesting man. And so was his philosophy. While there is plenty wrong with it, indeed much of it is disastrous, there’s a certain element of attraction to his deep seated cynicism and frustration toward the established opinion in general. And of course Mencken is one of the greatest writers that America has ever produced. His stunning vocabulary, his wit, and his flowing sentences make the entire book a pleasure to read.
Nietzsche was a brilliant person, but at the end of his life he had a total mental breakdown and literally couldn’t function without the help of his beloved sister “Lisbeth.” Consider the following paragraph– my favorite of the entire book– as a taste of this intellectual biography’s content:
There is something poignantly pathetic in the picture of this valiant fighter— this arrogant ja-sager— this foe of men, gods and devils— being nursed and coddled like a little child. His old fierce pride and courage disappeared and he became docile and gentle. “You and I, my sister— we are happy!” he would say, and then his hand would slip out from his coverings and clasp that of the tender and faithful Lisbeth. Once she mentioned Wagner to him. “Den habe ich sehr geliebt!“ he said. All his old fighting spirit was gone. He remembered only the glad days and the dreams of his youth.
Mencken, H.L. (2015-07-10). The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (p. 30). Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.
People used to ask me what the best book is to get an introduction to Austrian economics. I used to tell them Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. For some people, I still do. But for those that have at least a small background in economic theory, this is my new recommendation. And let me not mince words: this was one of the best economics books I have ever read. Essentially it is a summary of the vision of Ludwig von Mises as portrayed in his timeless treatise Human Action. Choice is basically Human Action for those who are not quite ready for the real thing. And even those who have been through HA, I cannot recommend this book enough. It succinctly and successfully expresses the Misesian framework. If you are to read one economics book next year, make it this one.
Bagus shines again in his newest work, which is exactly as the title describes: a comprehensive defense of deflation in an academic world which considers deflation the antichrist itself. Bagus takes the time to present a taxonomy of deflation and explains how one ought to think of the matter in light of the fact that historic economic theory teaches that deflation is a contraction of the money supply whereas modern frameworks misleadingly refer to it as a fall in prices. Either way, Bagus argues, deflation ought to be praised, not avoided. Bagus looks at the economic and moral consequences of deflation, the causes of it, and why it is inflation, not deflation, that ought to be feared and opposed. A helpful work in a time of monetary propaganda. Warning: it is expensive though, as it was published by an academic press.
That’s all for this year! I have a great reading list for 2016 that I can’t wait to start!