Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Big Five: the 5 best libertarian magazines around

People interested in the ideas of liberty need to be informed and one means of gathering information is through magazines. So if you are a novice at liberty, or even an old-timer at it, which publications ought to be at the top of your reading list?

Of course publications don’t all have the same focus. Some are more ideological than others for instance. So which publications would I recommend be included in the library of a well-read advocate of freedom? Here are my choices in no particular order.

The Economist is a definite on the list of recommends. It is truly an international publication, it is a news publication and it is one that shares the basic libertarian values. it is also the only weekly publication on my list. This amazing publication has been in continuous publication since 1843. In the original prospects for this publication it was stated that its purpose was to print articles “in which free-trade principles will be most rigidly applied to all the important questions of the day.” It was a leading publication of the classical liberals of England and is now the leading such publication for classical liberals in the world. Former editor Bill Emmott says the publications “philosophy has always been liberal, not conservative.” In other words it is pretty libertarian thought not blatantly so. It has favoured free markets, globalisation, legalisation of drugs and gay marriage. In most cases it has been true to its roots.

So you have a publication that is widely respected, sells 1 million copies per week, informative and editorially supports liberty most of the time. Because it is a weekly it is not cheap either. It is however very economically with verbiage so articles are short, informative and often have a bit of British dry humour along the way. A recent article on individuals in Canada being arrested for allegedly plotting to behead the prime minister was subtitled” How not to be Canadian”.

A one year US subscription is going to run $129.00 while in Europe it is even more. But if you read this publication you really don’t need Time, Newsweek, etc. More information here.

Next on my list is the monthly publication Reason. This glossy has been around for sometime, since the late 60s when it was a mimeographed newsletter published by Lanny Friedlander. It took off a few years later and eventually created behind it an entire foundation dedicated to promoting libertarian solutions to local problems. One way to get the flavour of a publication is to see what kind of stories they run. The current, June 06 issue has several interesting pieces. Jeff Taylor explores how the FBI allowed 9/11 to happen. Cathy Young investigates when criticism of Islam degenerates into bigotry. Three different individuals with three differing perspectives look at the war in Iraq and offer their views.

Then we have three articles dealing with what Americans can learn from India. Shikha Dalmia writes “What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore” and “Where Did India’s Skilled Labour Come From?” on the role of private education in India. Samuel Staley looks at “The Rise and Fall of Indian Socialism”. Unrelated is Bruce Bartlett’s article “The President’s Rotten Record on Trade”. Julian Sanchez looks at the so called “marriage crisis” while Amy Sturgis looks at the libertarian legacy of sci-fi writer Octavia Butler. Of course there is more. This is just a sampling. The publication has been revamped and is widely hailed as one of the top political magazines in the United States. It comes out 11 times per year and is about $20 for a US subscription and about $30 per year in Europe. You can find out more here.

Certainly to be included is another libertarian publication with an illustrious history: the Freeman. Published by the Foundation for Economic Education this magazine has been around for half a century. During the 50s and 60s it was had the libertarian market pretty much it itself. There were short lived or limited circulation newsletters around. But from a libertarian perspective this was pretty much it. It was then filled with articles by writers like Ludwig von Mises, Frank Chodorov. Leonard Read, John Chamberlain and FA Harper. But they also republished classic works by Bastiat, Spencer, de Tocqueville, and Sumner.

For years the publication was given away and it was one I read in high school. And I found much in the magazine worth reading. But the layout was dull and I was not greatly fond of the editorial thrust under the then editor Paul Poirot. Eventually a donation was required, the magazine changed formats and a new editor, Sheldon Richman came on board. I find the new magazine a much improved version and far more interesting.

The Freeman is another monthly. How it differs is that the focus is more on the ideas of libertarianism. It does have more new oriented material than in the past but this is mainly a publication described well by its subtitle: “The Ideas of Liberty.” The current issue includes an interesting article by James Tooley on why private education is good for the world’s poor, a reprint of an article on the early history of FEE by Henry Hazlitt, an article by Steven Horowitz “Hayek and Freedom”, “Japan, Germany and the End of the Third Way” Norman Barry and “Ludwig von Mises: The Political Economist of Liberty” by economist and FEE president Richard Ebeling. Each issues includes numerous columns and book reviews as well.

I would recommend a minimum donation of $20 for a US subscription and $30 if in Europe. More information can be found here.

To round out my list I will now focus on two journals. Unlike the previous three publications these are more academic in focus but well worth reading or having in one’s library for reference. If academic material is a bit much for you then the three publications I’ve mentioned above will give you a well rounded look at the world and what is happening in it from a libertarian perspective. But don’t underestimate your ability to read these journals.

The first journal on my list is The Cato Journal which is described as an interdisciplinary journal of public policy analysis. It’s been going for 26 years and I remember receiving the first issue. It is published quarterly. It is not a glossy or filled with pictures. It is an academic journal with footnotes and credentials for the authors.

In the most recent issue you will find one article asking “Does Foreign Aid Help?” while another wants to know “Does a Less Active Central Bank Lead to Greater Economic Stability?” An old friend of mine from my days at the Pacific Research Institute, Greg Christainsen writes on “Road Pricing in Singapore after 30 Years” -- an issue he and I talked about almost 20 years ago. Two other authors ask: “Does Gun Control Reduce Crime or Does Crime Increase Gun Control?” You will also find an article on the impact of government control on drug prices and on research and development, other articles and several book reviews.

A subscription for one year, four issues, is $24.00 in the US and $34.00 outside the US. More information can be found here.

And rounding out my “Big Five” is The Independent Review is a quarterly published by the Independent Institute and edited by Robert Higgs. It too is academic in nature but with more variety in an issue than the Cato Journal which often concentrates on one topic. It has been around now for 10 years. The most recent issue is the Spring, 06 issue.

This issue illustrates the diversity of topics. Charlotte Twight has a disturbing article “Limited government: Ave Atque Vale” which deals with how the Bush administration has basically imposed a national ID on Americans. She notes that in just two months the US government imposed the ID program and the Supreme Court destroyed basic Constitutional rights by giving the broadest definition ever to the interstate commerce clause and to the takings clause. She says that in just a few weeks time three main pillars of freedom were destroyed and said: “If anyone still doubted the direction in which government power is heading in the United States, these decisions surely dispel such doubts.”

In the same issue Frederic Sautet investigates “Why Have Kiwis Not Become Tigers? Reforms, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Performance in New Zealand.” James Payne investigates “Does Nation Building Work?” and Natalie Janson looks at “Business and the Welfare State in France and Germany.” There are several other articles as well.

A subscription costs $28.95 for one year within the United States. The one major drawback of this publication is that they really do charge very high penalties for subscribers outside the US with an additional charge of $28 for an overseas subscription. Between the two academic journals I tend to prefer this publication but I’m not sure I prefer it $28 worth more than I do the Cato Journal. I think they have done themselves a real disservice by charging so much extra. Typically a $10 extra charge seems most common while the Independent Institute charges almost three times as much. More information can be found at

So those are my “Big Five” publications for libertarians. I think this selection has a decent balance in it. You get hard news, news and policy analysis and you get good academic material to back it up with. You are not inundated with publications to read. There are 51 copies of The Economist over a year’s period which is more than all the other publications put together. So basically every week you receive one publication. Then not quote once a month you will receive Reason and The Freeman, and then every four months you will receive The Cato Journal and The Independent Review. To deal with this amount of magazine reading, if you read it from cover to cover, you only have to finish 1.5 publications per week. But I assure you that there are many articles you will skim and some that won’t interest you at all. So this level of reading is manageable for most people including those who still need time for books.

Notice: Over the next few months we shall do several “Libertarian Lists” that are of use to those interested in freedom. This is the first in that series. I should also mention that I have given my honest opinions here but should mention conflicts of interest. In the past I have written for Reason though not recently. I do contribute to The Freeman and have several articles coming up there. I have not written for the others though I did once work for the publisher of The Independent Review, David Theroux when he was president of the Pacific Institute.