Mailbag Monday: A Reading List for Those Curious About Capitalism, Economics, Libertarianism, and Christianity

I received the following email in response to my recent interview on The New Evangelicals podcast;


I just finished listening to your interview on The New Evangelicals Podcast and I must say I absolutely loved it. Like Tim, I have long felt a sense of unease when thinking about capitalism and its effects on our world. You put into words exactly what I have been thinking for quite some time and made more clear the possibility for a different world
My story is similar to yours. I was a staunch libertarian and free market capitalist for a very long time. I believed so strongly in the basics you mentioned. Voluntary exchange, contract law, and all of the other “necessary” components of a free market. Like you, I started to feel just how much of a cog in the wheel i and so many others are and how exploitative the system of capital is. I started to see just how weak these arguments are and how much I was simply holding water for the interests of wealthy and powerful elites that exploit their workers.
Even though this feeling has been clear, I have been searching for an intellectual take on the subject. Its obvious that you are very well read on the alternatives to the system of capital. I was wondering if you had any recommendations on places to start or works you found to be most helpful in understanding the problems with the system we once supported. I had one recommended to me by some libertarians that seem to understand the stakes of economic liberty similarly to what you talk about. Its called “Markets not capitalism” ( It includes a lot of thinkers form Pruodhon to Rothbard. Have you heard of it? If nothing else I would love a reading list you may have that you would suggest to anyone looking to learn more about the alternatives to capitalism.
Again I truly enjoyed your thoughts and hope to hear more form you.

Here was my response:

Thanks for reaching out; glad it was interesting to you. Wasn’t quite prepared for it (I thought I was going to talk on religious fundamentalism etc., but it turned out OK, I think.)

Yeah I actually skimmed through that book Markets Without Capitalism last month after someone told me about it, and ended up selling it because it wasn’t that good. It wasn’t terrible, but there’s alot better stuff out there (see below).
Note: The books are loosely listed in order of importance for your own intellectual journey (the order would be different for other people).

Also, I link to Amazon not because I’m a big fan of Amazon (or at least its exploitation of workers), but because it’s a convenient reference tool.

For a bit of important libertarian/neoliberal/ancap unlearning, see:

Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine 
Hunt and Lautzenheiser, A History of Economic Thought, 3rd ed
Richard Wolff, Understanding Socialism
David Harvey, Neoliberalism: A History
Ellen Wood, The Origins of Capitalism 
Andre Gunder Frank, Re-Orient (essential starting point for economic history)
Eric Williams, Slavery and Capitalism
Joseph Pierre-Proudhon, (ed. Ian McKay), Property is Theft!: A Joseph-Pierre Proudhon Reader (if you’re feeling really adventurous; the first third is all you really need to read)

On coops and alternatives to capitalism:

Rudolph Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism (foreword by Noam Chomsky; compare to Rothbard’s “Anatomy of the State” in its short, devastating, eye-opening impact. Trivia: The book was written at the behest of the great feminist, anarchist, sex liberationist Emma Goldman, who threatened to “spank” Rocker if he didn’t write it (lol); I concur that he was wise to obey!; and Rocker’s other book Nationalism and Culture was endorsed by Albert Einstein, which I really need to read, since I didn’t even know Einstein endorsed books…) Also, all the books in this “Working Classics “Series” are pretty interesting – like this one by Murray Bookchin.
Abdullah Öcalan, The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan: Kurdistan, Women’s Revolution and Democratic Confederalism (Öcalan and the creation of Rojava is, in my view, one of the most important political and economic things to have happened in our lifetime, and immeasurable in its significance for the future of collective organization and human civilization; mostly for that reason I dedicated my book Deconstructing Evangelicalism to those Kurdish people who lost their lives and homes because of Trump and Erdogan’s capitalist/political pursuits in October of 2019).
John Restakis, Humanizing the Economy 
Nathan Schneider, Everything for Everyone 
Richard Wolff, Democracy at Work
Immanuel Ness, New Forms of Worker Organization (Ness has written a staggering amount of first-rate scholarship on workers movements around the world)
Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard, The Making of a Democratic Economy
Joseph Blasi et. al., The Citizen’s Share (lots of good stats and some American history on the benefits of worker-ownership)
Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Collective Courage (more advanced original analysis if you want to dig deep into historical case studies)

Interesting reading in intellectual history that doesn’t fit these categories include the recent work by Gary Dorrien, Social Democracy in the Making and American Democratic Socialism (two vols on democratic socialism)

A great, simple, short alternative intro to econ includes Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to My Daughter About the Economy

On early Christian economics in the Greco-Roman world, be sure to read Richard Horsley, Covenant Economicswhich really opened my eyes to what’s happening in the New Testament and teachings of Jesus. (His work complements that of a great historical Jesus scholar, William Herzog II).

Also, in Christian econ circles, and in addition to Rieger’s Unified We are a Forcesee my two articles (the second is attached):

“Production for the Common Good: A Case for Christian Cooperatives.” Journal of Religious Leadership. Forthcoming.
“Owning Up to It: Why Cooperatives Create the Humane Economy Our World Needs,” Faith and Economics 76 (2020): 133-208.

As you can tell in my own pubs, I sympathize most with the anarcho-syndicalist/anarcho-socialist tradition (Öcalan  , Chomsky, etc.), which is focused on decentralizing political and economic power, and empowering workers via direct democracy. But because of shared goals and overlap, I am sympathetic to other movements.

I am also currently working on a massive revision of Creative Common Law ( to reflect this, though its slow going and on the bottom of my list of things to do for now.

Finally, a brief essay on how and why I moved out of anarcho-capitalist circles and into others, is found here.

take care,