Here are some books that shaped my thinking.
First, Friedrich Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" recounts how government trying to centrally plan an economy often leads to tyranny.
Government shouldn't intervene, wrote Hayek, because a free market, like a school of fish or a flock of birds, creates a spontaneous order. No central planner will allocate resources as efficiently as individuals do themselves.
For arguing that, Hayek was ridiculed. But years later, even defenders of socialism conceded that he was right.
With "democratic socialism" newly popular and celebrities like Jim Carrey saying, "We have to say yes to socialism — to the word and everything!" today is a great time to give "Road to Serfdom" to your socialist friends.
If only they'd read it...
Of course, "Road to Serfdom" is written in old-fashioned language that some people find tough going. A simpler, more America-focused book from which to learn about economics is Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics."
Sowell writes in plain English, without graphs or equations. Not only will Sowell educate your socialist friends, he'll show Donald Trump fans why free trade is good.
Two even easier-to-read introductions to economics and free market philosophy are the cartoon-filled "Libertarianism for Beginners" by Todd Seavey and "Give Me a Break," written by an ignorant anti-business reporter (me) who finally discovered the benefits of markets.
But promoting those would be self-serving (Todd helps me write this column) so I won't even mention those fine books. I'll move on.
How about "Animal Farm" for the animals in your family? George Orwell describes how farm animals revolt against an abusive human master — only to end up ruled by new tyrants, the pigs.
"Animal Farm" was meant to be an allegory for the Russian revolution turning into Soviet tyranny, but it could just as easily apply to today's America if populists get their way.
Another fun read is Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." It's long — more than a thousand pages — but easy reading because the novel pulls you along, describing how cultural bias against capitalism and love of big government grows.
Rand depicts creeping government oppression so convincingly that it feels like she's describing America today.
Rand argues that government isn't just inefficient; it's evil because it violates property rights and tells people how to live their lives. Government is like a looter or burglar, she wrote.
Today's media, by contrast, call capitalists looters and burglars. Years ago, the media called the most successful of them "robber barons."
A book by Burton W. Folsom, "Myth of the Robber Barons," debunks those myths. It explains that capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt were neither robbers nor barons. They were not born rich, and they did not get rich by robbing people. They got rich by creating better things.
Rockefeller lowered the price of kerosene so much that it allowed poor people to read at night.
He probably even "saved the whales." That's because once Rockefeller made oil cheap, killing whales to get whale oil was no longer profitable. Bet your kids won't learn that in environmental studies class.
"Robber baron" Cornelius Vanderbilt didn't rob people. He made steamship travel faster and cheaper. It was jealous competitors who called him a "robber baron" because he charged lower prices than they did. The ignorant media picked up the term, and it stuck.
Finally, another great introduction to freedom is the book "Free to Choose," in which Milton and Rose Friedman explain how limiting government creates prosperity.
Friedman reportedly joked that if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand.
In the TV series accompanying "Free to Choose" he argued, "We somehow or other have to find a way to prevent government from continuing to grow and continuing to take over more and more control over our lives."
Well, we've failed at that!
We won't quit trying. Those books should help.
I hope my columns help a little bit, too.