My polymath friend Michael Phillips has written a book called “The Most Important Book In Human History.” He’s not exaggerating. It is that important.
I have told you before about my friend Michael Phillips, who is not just one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but also one of the most intellectually dynamic. He is a completely out-of-the-box thinker.
If you’re wondering what I mean when I say “out-of-the-box” thinker, consider this: Back in the day, inspired by Diner’s Club, banks started issuing their own plastic “credit cards.” The problem, though, was that they were useful only at those institutions that recognized that bank. In essence, these cards were nothing more than a shortcut way to avoid the labor of writing a check. It was Michael who came up with the idea of MasterCard — a cover organization to which all banks could subscribe. This was the first multibank card and it became the basis for a global currency that can travel with you to most points in the First World and many points in the Second.
Michael also conducted radio interviews for years, talking to anybody and everybody. These weren’t Charlie Rose or David Letterman type reviews. You know what I mean when I talk about Rose and Letterman: they are the interviewers who talk only to people who agree with them and the interviewer does most of the talking.
Michael is interested in people, not ideologies, and his ego takes a back seat during the interview. During San Francisco’s Swinging, hippy 1960s and self-actualized, self-realized 1970s, Michael talked to everyone from bankers to hippies to Todd Gitlin. If you go to Michael’s blog, Pro Commerce and look up the “hippie” category you’ll get an idea of the scope of his experience and the broad spectrum of people and institutions who made (and make) up his world. As you look through it, keep in mind that Michael in the 1960s was a University of Chicago wunderkind, a former soldier, a banker, and a committed free market capitalist, but none of that stopped him from finding this emerging counterculture fascinating and worth study.
When Michael got his “Social Thought” radio show, which ran from 1988-1998, he talked to thought-leaders such Paul Krugman, Michael Lerner, Robert Reich, Ralph Nader, and Todd Gitlin, treating them with respect while leaving his own conservative ideology intact. (And no, I don’t agree with their thoughts, but they are thought leaders.) Michael also spoke to Milton Friedman, which means I’m one degree of separation from that great man.
At this point, you should be coming away with the very strong impression that I think the world of Michael. I love his intelligence, his effervescence, his endless curiosity, and his personal warmth. I’m deeply honored that he considers me a friend.
With all this in mind, you can imagine that, when Michael asked me for my opinion of a book he had written or, more accurately, a monograph, as it’s quite short, I jumped at the chance. That’s how I got to be one of the first people to read The Most Important Book in Human History. [Bad link fixed.]
The book, which you can get in hard copy or through Kindle, is short, to the point, and so densely packed with wisdom about how commerce operates and the benefits it bestows on society that it should be required reading in every school in America. It’s the rare writer who can, in simple, accessible prose, convey deeply important principles about economics, American history, intellectual diversity, and the incredibly important way the free market creates a meritocracy that allows the best ideas to flourish for the benefit of the greatest number of people. Thomas Sowell can do this and so can my friend Michael.
If you’re interested in core principles about the virtue of commerce, get this book. If you have a young person in your life who needs solid facts and logic to counter the vapid socialism that passes for education in American schools, get this book. And if you enjoy seeing a masterful thinker distill complex and important principles into short, easy-to-understand paragraphs and chapters, get this book.
At a fundamental level, this book’s title is no joke — it really is the most important book in history, because it succinctly spells out the difference between a wealthy, stable, successful society, comprised of free individuals competing in a meritocracy, on the one hand, and all the other society’s in the world, none of which have been (or are) as economically successful or as welcoming to individual liberty, on the other hand. Living, as we do, in a time when our republican democracy is falling prey to both a bureaucratic tyranny and a technological tyranny governed by an oligarchy that controls the flow of information, there are few things more helpful than understanding the nexus between free markets and free people.