Highlights, information and reviews of some of the best books in Economics, Finance, Sound Money, and Freedom.

A libertarian’s dream book on nutrition

Eat Fat, Lose Fat, by Dr Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

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You are what you eat.  Do you know what you eat? Do you understand the subtle, yet large differences between saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats?  Have you ever wondered why the incidence of obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease has risen dramatically over the past five decades despite the vast (and I mean: VAST!) improvements in surgical and medicinal restorative treatment to illnesses of both historical and modern origin?  This writer had heard of the rage of ‘organic’ foods, pasture-fed animals, and the anti-fat movement who espouse the lipid hypothesis and dangers of cholesterol, every now and then eating this or avoiding that in the name of ‘health.’

EFLFHowever, it wasn’t until reading Dr Mary Enig and Sally Fallon’s phenomenal book, “Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats”, that all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and he could take responsibility for his food choices and eating habits.  But dear reader, be warned, after reading and assimilating the facts and nutritious knowledge in this 290 page book, the inside of your local grocer will change.  Those harmless frozen, processed and even preserved foodstuffs are not what they seem.  Beneath the neat-clad packaging hides little monsters that will in the future jump out at you with angry little gremlin-like faces and screeching voices. “Eat Fat, Lose Fat”, reveals these monsters extraordinarily effectively to even the novice in Nutrition.

“Eat Fat, Lose Fat”, takes the curious and interested reader on an educational journey of the many ‘ills’ of the modern western diet. Part One, the ‘Truth About Fats’ explains in clear and easily understandable language, exactly that, the truth about fats. Numerous studies, explanations, and real life examples and references are used to make the overriding point in crystal, that saturated fats were an integral part of traditional and tribal people’s diets, yet they did not suffer from diseases such as cancer and have heart problems.  Sally Fallon is well placed to explain this, as she is the president of Weston A. Price Foundation.  Weston A Price is the pioneer and leader in the science of nutrition of primitive, tribal and traditional people and their diets, and the resulting health of these people, as compared to those of the West.  According to an informed friend, his tome “Nutrition and physical degeneration” is the touchstone text on nutrition.  As the Bible is to Christianity, so is this book to the study of Nutrition. Don’t take my word for it, ask google.

In Part One, the facts about the different types of fats are laid out.  Not wasting any time, the authors delve into defining saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats early on, on pages 8-11.  And why not, this is the crux of the issue.  Saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are all healthy in their own right.  A key difference is that saturated and monounsaturated fats are relatively stable fats that do not create free radicals when exposed to oxygen or heat.  Polyunsaturated fats on the other hand, do.  And it is polyunsaturated fats that are used widely in the production of processed foods, the polyunsaturated fat that is blasted with hydrogen (partial hydrogenation), creating trans fats.  The reason: the polyunsaturated fat then takes on the character of a saturated fat that will give the processed food a longer shelf life.  The problem: it is exactly this fat that causes obesity, may trigger cancer, or cause cardiovascular disease.  Trans fats are essentially a toxin and poison to your body.  Another complication: it is not easy to identify how much trans fats a product contains, despite the labelling that say there are 0.0mg trans fats in a product.  Furthermore, should they not use trans fats, they may still use liquid vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fat) that create health problems when consumed in large amounts, or heated to high temperatures in the production process (creating free radicals).

Discussing the science of fats, and dispelling the myths of cholesterol, the lipid hypthesis, and explaining the progressive state intervention in the food industry, as well as state backing for the “anti-fat campaign,” also account for a good chunk of the first part of the book.  Special attention is given to understanding the natural forms of fats, what their nutritive purposes are, and in which foods to find them.  For instance, did you know, that 60% of the human brain is composed of fat.  Phospholipids, which are roughly 50% saturated fat, help make up the brain cell membranes.  When you are not consuming sufficient saturated fats, the chemistry of your brain may be compromised.  Yes, you may be eating yourself stupid…  The authors conclude Part One by addressing a nutritional approach to weight loss and health. In doing so, the shortcoming of diets such as the Atkins and South Beach are discussed, and the staple base of many recipes contained in Part Three, coconut oil, -cream, and -milk, are introduced.

Having structured Part One in such a way that the reader now understands the basics of fats, the reader is led into Part Two, which focuses on specific foodstuffs.  Nutrient dense foods such as pasture-fed free-range eggs, pasture-fed beef and chicken, butter, liver, and whole-grain milk from free-range sources now become the focus.  Free-range is not only a slogan that is hung around the necks of those who espouse global warming, are anti commercial farming, and who advocate a healthy lifestyle for animals.  Free-range and pasture-fed is important to you if you want to eat nutrient rich food, filled with the goodness of a healthy earth, and avoid the thousands of kilograms worth of pesticides, herbicides, hormones and other chemicals that ultimately find their way to your body.  Did you know, the average amount of such chemicals that the American consumes each year is roughly his own body weight. Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps the beauty of this book is that all of this is covered in the relatively short space of 100 pages.  From here on out, nutritional routines and core principles of healthy eating are laid out. The reader is shown which growing and manufacturing processes are the ones to avoid, and which are the ones to support.  A meal plan is also structured for those who have struggled with the “Boom-Bust Diet Cycle,” to get them on the road of sustained health.  An entire chapter is also dedicated to advising those who have suffered the consequences of nutrient deficiency and are struggling to recover a serious health condition.  Once again, a step-by-step plan to deal with symptoms such as adrenal weakness, allergies and hay fever, ADD, asthma, colds and flu, constipation, diabetes and insulin resistance to name a few, are dealt with.  Healthy foods make healthy bodies; it is as simple as that.

The rest of the book deals with delicious, satiating recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks, in categories from poultry, beef to pork.  Sceptical fiancé and all, this writer has been eating these foods for over a week now, and it must be said that there are a few winning recipes in there, from “Leg of Lamb with root vegetables,” to “Barbequed Beef Ribs,” “Sautéed Sweet Potato,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” to “Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce,” to name a few.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat” is for the person who senses that he is not putting the best fuels in his body.  It is for the person that has tried the hair of the dog to get healthy, and has been left disappointed.  It is for the person who knows there is something fundamentally wrong with the foods available to us today, and is looking for better alternatives.  To eat is to feed, nourish, restore and replace.  We find ourselves in a commercial farming, big pharma, big healthcare world.  Responsibility of what we put in our bodies has been delegated to the so-called experts of these corporations, and their law-writing cronies, the state.  “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” is the first step to comprehension and assimilation of the dangers their advice and products pose to your life and your body.  It gives you the power to take back responsibility for your own body, life, and health.  It is a book that you will carry to the shop to double check certain references of foodstuffs and harmful substances contained in them.  It is one you will tell all your friends about, but not lend them the book, for risk of not having that crucial little bit of information of whether it was sesame or olive oil that should be expeller expressed, or whether the brand ‘Garden of Life’ is the best available cod-liver oil or not.  “Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats” is a responsible individual’s dream book on nutrition.  Here’s to life, freedom, and most of all, responsibility for your health!

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A great introduction to Libertarianism

Libertarianism Today, by Jacob H. Huebert
(2010 Praeger)
255 page paperback; $25.00
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LibertarianismIt is not easy to strike a balance between being informative and entertaining, covering all the relevant facts while remaining lucid and interesting.  It is perhaps even more difficult to write a concise introduction on a very broad topic while delivering enough substance and detail to keep the intelligent reader engaged.  And maybe it is especially difficult to do all this when the topic is a fringe political philosophy called Libertarianism.  But Jacob Huebert manages this tricky task with a refreshing degree of clarity in his book Libertarianism Today, which promises to be widely read.

Libertarianism is sadly a very misunderstood philosophy, and has always struggled to grow meaningfully in popularity, convert disciples, and operate with credibility in the mainstream.  Libertarianism’s perennial struggle is how much to engage with the mainstream political process.  Anarchist Libertarians who remain opposed to the very idea of government in any way shape or form have always found it hard to advance their agenda in the traditional political realm, both morally and practically, while Libertarians of the minarchist bent (minimal state advocates) have been plagued by getting easily seduced into the broader realms of traditional conservative movements with the promise of having realistic chances of meaningful political influence.

The result has been a movement that has struggled to create its own credible identity, either being dismissed as a bunch of anarchist utopian loons, and therefore having limited impact on public policy and governance, or being subsumed into the subgroups of the mainstream political machines, and usually giving up more than is gained.  In short, the Libertarian movement has been rather fragmented over the past 40-50 years of its existence, and, given the state we find our world in today, has been mostly ineffective.

The other major problem for Libertarians is the misclassification of other failed political systems or policies as Libertarian or having been influenced by Libertarians.  The classic example of this is the mainstream historical narrative about the years preceding the 1929 Wall Street crash and subsequent great depression of the 1930’s.  The history books tell us that ‘unfettered’ ‘laissez-fare’ led to the unbridled capitalism of the roaring 20’s, which in turn created the stock market crash.  Our custodians of history then tell us that laissez-fare policies led to mass unemployment and huge reductions in wealth, and that only when FDR’s New Deal rolled around and the government stepped in to save the day did the US and the globe start recovering from the Great Depression.  The truth is that Libertarians back then disagreed wholeheartedly with the system of monetary debasement that led to the artificial boom in the 20’s, and railed against the restrictive policies such as the minimum wage that prohibited millions from working during the depression.

Even in today’s financial crisis it is astounding how many attribute the problems we face to free market, laissez-fare, Libertarian economic policies.  A less ignorant reading of the facts would show that over the past decade US federal deficits increased (anti-Libertarian), the federal government expanded (anti-Libertarian), laws on the US statute books increased (anti-Libertarian), the monopolistic influence of the Federal Reserve increased (anti-Libertarian), vast quantities of money were printed out of thin air (anti-Libertarian), laws for artificially boosting homeownership were passed (anti-Libertarian), the advent of wire-tapping laws (anti-libertarianism), bank bailouts (anti-Libertarian), the US went to war and remains at war (anti-Libertarian), and many other examples in which the system moved toward less freedom than more.  In short, placing the blame on Libertarian ideas and political/economic philosophies is to misunderstand that the US and indeed many parts of the Western World have in the past decade moved inexorably further away from resembling anything remotely close to a free, laissez-fare, Libertarian system.

In this sense Huebert’s book is an attempt to clean up this mess and bring some sanity and clarity to the debate.  It is particularly pertinent and well-timed in coinciding with the rise of the Tea Party movement and ahead of the US mid-term elections in November.  Huebert’s aim is to state clearly the Libertarian position, explain why modern mainstream liberalism and conservatism have almost nothing to do with Libertarianism, and then go into some detail on what Libertarianism means in the areas of economics, personal freedom, law, property rights, and the political process.

This is a highly valuable book at this time.  It will serve to once more debunk the myth that Libertarians are responsible for our current economic mess, and will also help in setting a true Libertarian agenda as the Tea Party threatens potentially to splinter off into a dozen directions, many of them potentially un-Libertarian, and/or be subsumed once again into the broader mainstream political parties.  The book is also simply a great education tool for the person wanting to find out more about the ideas and usefulness of this philosophy.

People tend to be scared of liberty because it necessarily entails that we all take on a little more risk and more responsibility.  In the modern world, with a tendency for a lemming citizenry cozied up in their state-induced numbness, Libertarian ideas can come across as radical at best and most often just plain strange.  But Huebert shows that the Libertarian position on most issues is often not only widely accepted in society, but also just plain sensible.

Lovers of freedom and sceptics of freedom alike will be challenged, informed, enlightened, and inspired by this book.  Huebert is under no illusion that these ideas remain popular only among a minority at present and that a move toward a more mainstream adoption of Libertarian ideas is probably still a way off, but he argues nonetheless that all ideas have a time and that perhaps Libertarianism’s time is not that far off.

Every great wave of ideas started off small.

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Uncovering the folly that is ‘Intellectual Property’

kinsellaAgainst Intellectual Property, by N. Stephan Kinsella (2008 The Ludwig von Mises Institute)
70 page paperback; $6.00
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It is not often that a reader can be bought up to speed on an entire intellectual theory in one short session of reading, let alone one that so decisively goes against the grain.  But that is what N. Stephan Kinsella has achieved in his short but seminal work published in 2008 by the Mises Institute, Against Intellectual Property.

To be sure, the topic in question, intellectual property (including copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets) is a potentially daunting one that is steeped in legal intellectualism and has been hotly debated for centuries.  But it is not the aim of this short essay to do full justice to the breadth and scope of this debate, but rather to clearly articulate the correct foundation from which all property rights, including Intellectual Property (IP) rights, should be considered.

While actually a deep economic issue that goes to the very heart of what is the essence of private property, IP has been universally accepted in modern democratic societies without much thought of the issue by the very people who must administer such laws and the people whom such laws impact.  Most people regard IP as the natural order of things and that, without IP innovation would cease as the incentive to create new inventions would disappear.

Kinsella shows that both assertions could not be further from the truth.  Intellectual Property laws are not natural at all, but arise from and require administering by government bureaucrats.  Absent government intervention and the threat of force through various law enforcement agencies, IP would not exist.

Furthermore, there is little evidence to show that IP laws generate more research and development and more innovation, and in fact some academic studies have shown that environments without IP laws have as much if not more technological innovation than environments with IP laws.  Indeed, IP laws may also deliver too much research in some areas and distort the provision of current consumer goods and research and investment away from what society actually needs and desires.

Kinsella shows that the need for private property arises from natural scarcity.  The essence of scarcity is that one’s use of a resource or good necessarily excludes another from using or consuming that resource.  Hence land is scarce, food is scarce, cars are scarce, and umbrellas are scarce.  Most tangible resources are scarce, although there are some exceptions like the air we breathe, which is scarce in principle but not in practice.  Non-scarce resources cannot be considered property, which is why no one person can own non-scarce resources and why they are generally free to consume.

Natural scarcity therefore forms the basis for homesteadable property, which Kinsella shows is the only legitimate form of private property.

The author then goes on to demonstrate that ideas are non-scarce and that they cannot be homesteaded like normal scarce goods.  Ideas therefore cannot be legitimately regarded as property.  IP laws should be scrapped.

Kinsella does make a point of distinguishing between Copyright, Patents, Trademarks and Trade Secrets.  Copyright and Patent law should be abolished, Trademark (brand) infringement can be dealt with under normal fraud laws (Kinsella argues that the infringement is against consumers in the form of fraud rather than against the brand being copied), and trade secrets can be legitimately guarded by companies or individuals using legitimate means to keep their secrets secret, but should not have state laws to protect them.

This is a clear and hard-hitting rebuttal of the pro-IP view, it runs against the mainstream grain, and will get under a lot of people’s skin – just the kind of book we like here at Human Action!  But more importantly, it is sound and sensible, and is superbly well referenced to boot, displaying the author’s academic pedigree.  N. Stephan Kinsella is easily one of the leading opponents of IP law and with this essay has set the standard for the libertarian view of IP.  Some free market economists such as South Africa’s Free Market Foundation, and many others, still support the upholding of IP laws as part of their greater mandate to support respect for private property rights in general.  While these folk are well-meaning, they have conflated two separate things – real, scarce, homesteadable tangible property, and pseudo, non-scarce, intellectual property.

Free market economists should stop making this error and start separating real property rights from pseudo property rights, and understand that IP laws are really nothing but rights granted by the government to a select few privileged individuals.

The Libertarian movement is greatly indebted to Kinsella and this body of work.

We leave you with one of Kinsella’s best insights: the granting of IP rights in the form of copyright and patents actually allows the holder of those “rights” control over  the tangible property of third parties, thereby robbing those third parties of the ability to use their real tangible property as they see fit.  In other words, IP laws help some limit the legitimate property rights of others, and unfairly transfer effective ownership of that tangible property from some to others.  To find out how intangible IP laws enable this tangible theft, you better read this book…

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Niall Ferguson’s “Harvard Theory” of money

The Ascent of Money, by Niall Ferguson (2008 The Penguin Press)

The_Ascent_of_MoneyThe Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson carries the slogan “The Financial History of the World”. When reading this book, regard it as exactly this: a history lesson. It may even pass for an introduction to the history of finance. For those familiar with the topics, it may be a bit superficial and platonic, as 340 pages is no place for much detail and depth of analysis to the history of finance.

What you can take from this book are the facts that led to some of the biggest developments in finance and related crises in economic history. But be warned: do not buy into Ferguson’s notion that the government can run the economy, but perhaps more importantly, that the government can manage money supply. Ferguson takes as a given the government’s role in managing currencies, and fails even to discuss the developments of state involvement over the banking system through central banking and fiat money. Not once in a book of 340 pages about the history of finance are the words “fiat” and “money” mentioned in succession. Ferguson also sees fractional reserve banking as merely part of the continuous process of financial evolution, and no attention is paid to how the state now, through the central bank, controls banking.

Ferguson has meticulously researched and footnoted his work for those interested in further reading, but mostly fails to connect the dots between cause and effect of major financial crises, namely government intervention in the economy. For instance, it is frustrating to read him going on about how John Law created the French central bank, and with his new found power managed to take over numerous aspects of managing the government’s fiscus, but not once does Ferguson denounce this type of control over a free market economy. To Ferguson, the economy is something that must be managed, but it must just be done more prudently.

If you’re interested in learning about the broad history and evolution of finance, this is a good read. It is mostly fairly light reading and goes well before bed time or next to the pool. In conclusion, Ferguson has really wasted a good platform from which to explain some very important historical lessons to the layman.

A Classic for any era

Hazlitt1Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt (1946 Harper & Brothers)
The Ludwig von Mises Institute Edition, 2008
206 Page Hardback; $12.00
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What an audacious title, and what a great book.

Henry Hazlitt’s 1946 classic, Economics in One Lesson, not only lives up to its title, it far surpasses it.  If this book doesn’t seriously rock your economic paradigm, you’re either think like Henry Hazlitt already, or you have locked yourself up in an ivory tower of permanent intellectual stubbornness.  Seeing that most people do not fit into either of these categories, this book should have a wide appeal.

In this highly enjoyable and quick-to-read classic, Henry Hazlitt systematically, logically, and yet with the utmost charm and dignity, destroys and discredits chapter by chapter the most popular and destructive economic fallacies, and provides beautifully simple and yet deeply profound insights into the workings of the real world.

The Mises Institute has re-published a rare gem of a book in Economics in One Lesson.   Some economists regard the book as the most important economics book ever written because of its potential to reach millions.  Indeed, one of the most important aspects of the book, and its most endearing, is that it is not written to the trained economist but to the layman, the average you and me out there trying to make sense of an unnecessarily complex world.  If you have even a smidgen of common sense, you’ll be able to fully comprehend Hazlitt’s uniquely clear and refreshing approach to economics.

Most importantly, as the Mises Institute points out,

“It’s still the quickest way to learn how to think like an economist”

Hazlitt states “the lesson” upfront:

The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Economists have made economics a convoluted and unnecessarily difficult intellectual discipline.  Hazlitt shows that economics is in fact profoundly rooted in the most basic common sense, and he does so in a highly readable, logical, and consistent way.  After stating the lesson upfront, Hazlitt then spends the next 200 pages elaborating on his theme and one-by-one refuting the greatest economic fallacies of our age, using real life examples of some of key areas of economics such as prices, profits, labour, unions and wages, inflation and so on.

As each chapter passes, another fallacy is destroyed, another myth is busted, and Hazlitt increasingly reveals himself as a genuinely brilliant economic thinker and conveyor of ideas.  Some of the more gripping chapters include his debunking of long held popular fallacies such as, The Broken Window, The Curse of Machinery, The Fetish of Full Employment, Do Unions Really Raise Wages?, and The Mirage of Inflation.

This book is truly indispensable to gaining or furthering your knowledge in economics, and more generally in understanding better the world around you.  If you haven’t read this book, you haven’t really engaged in economics.

With Christmas coming up, why not get yourself a copy, and give a copy away as a gift.  Your holiday reading will be most enjoyable.

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