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A classic text on the philosophical underpinnings of (US) liberalism with regard to economic redistribution policies is A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, a renowned professor of philosophy at Harvard.

After reading Rawls, I'd suggest maybe reading Robert Nozick's libertarian leaning Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Nozick was another distinguished philosopher from Harvard writing about the same time as Rawls. Nozick comes to a completely different conclusion than Rawls.

Both books are good and completely accessible to an ordinary reader (i.e. philosophy degree not required). However, they are serious and not as entertaining as the Friedmans' Free to Choose. While the two philosophy books address the question of what should a fair society look like from a philosophical perspective, I feel they don't address the aspects of human nature that have proven troublesome in socialist economies as well as Free to Choose.

Finally another classic, The Fatal Conceit by F. A. Hayek considers the practicality of socialism from an economic position in a more focused way. Like the previously mentioned books, it is an easy read.

These books may not reflect cutting edge thought, having been written in the 70's and 80's, but they were a useful starting point for me when I started to think about these issues more deeply and they are considered seminal works that in my opinion shouldn't be skipped while studying the questions of political and economic theory.

A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell further reflects on this question and makes some conclusions about why smart people end up disagreeing in such fundamental ways. I find Sowell's thinking and writing to be clear and well expressed.

Finally, an interesting book addresses the puzzling and related question of why does the academic community so easily accommodate views so antithetical to a scientific world view. I believe that this at the heart of the questions raised by the original NYT piece. The book is Higher Superstition by Gross and Levitt. While interesting this book is erudite and seems directed to narrower audience than those mentioned above, expecting a well-read reader.

[1] Rawls, A theory of justice. http://www.amazon.com/Theory-Justice-John-Rawls/dp/067400078...

[2] Nozick, Anarchy, state and utopia. http://www.amazon.com/Anarchy-State-Utopia-Robert-Nozick/dp/...

[3] Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to choose: a personal statement. http://www.amazon.com/Free-Choose-Statement-Milton-Friedman/...

[4] Hayek and Bartley, The fatal conceit: the errors of socialism. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9?url=search-alias%...

[5] Gross and Levitt, Higher superstition: the academic left and its quarrels with science. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dst...

John Rawls is of course the right answer here, but it seems odd that you cite Hayek, Nozick, Sowell, &c., who are all diametrically opposed.

The other one I'd recommend is John Stuart Mill.

I am not joking when I say I don't know a single liberal who has read Rawls or Mill.

In fact it is curious how little 'well educated' people read. They appear to absorb their opinions from Thomas Friedman and George Monbiot as if by osmosis.

That is not to say there don't exist conservatives or libertarians who also do not read books. Certainly I know religious conservatives who read very little outside of the Bible. I just also know a lot of college educated people whose houses are as bare as caves when it comes to books and most of them are liberal. They spend most of their time working long hours or frenetically socializing, not book friendly activities.

My guess is that few of any political conviction go to the source.

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