Book review: Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, by John Stossel

originally posted elsewhere: September 11, 2004

tl;dr: Classical liberalism for the masses...

With Give Me a Break!, John Stossel has performed a valuable public service: applying classical liberal thinking to present day social, economic and political issues, and packaging the results in a form that can be easily understood by the masses.

Stossel resists labeling himself: at one point, he says he's not a libertarian (he most definitely is) because he's not enticed by the Libertarian party and one of their nominees for NY governor, Howard Stern. However, this is exactly like confusing being democratic with supporting the Democratic party. Stossel is a classical liberal, believing in a high degree of freedom in both social and economic spheres. This stands in stark contrast to present day nanny state, welfare state, big government liberalism, and also certain aspects of conservatism. As Stossel describes in Give Me a Break!, he has weathered many attacks from the liberals who dominate the US's traditional media (the broadcast networks and big city daily newspapers).

A book cover with a white background and the author's name and the book's entire title, featuring a large color photo of the upper half of the author, a man with brown hair and a moustache wearing a blue dress shirt open at the collar, with a loosened tie, looking at the camera

After a short perfunctory biographical section, Stossel describes the evolution of his thinking that led him from being a highly decorated corporate attack dog consumer journalist to someone who began to see the bigger picture and the damage that is done when consumers' freedom is restricted by the government, which ultimately relies upon force to subvert the freewill of the people. Stossel discusses a broad range of issues, from business licensing to drug policy. I enjoyed most his chapter is on the damage done by lawyers: Stossel describes how they have usurped the legislature's power to raise taxes (e.g. the cigarette lawsuit settlement boondoggle and boon, to certain superrich, politically-connected lawyers) and how lawyers and judges make safety and medical decisions formerly left to scientists, doctors, the people's elected representatives, and individual consumers choosing what is best for themselves.

Stossel provides many examples to illustrate his points, although the most serious charge that can be leveled against him is that he occasionally uses selective and anecdotal evidence. More often than not, however, he tries to cite broad statistical and scientific evidence.

Give Me a Break! is written in very simple language, to appeal to the masses. The main service Stossel has performed with Give Me a Break! is to take ideas developed by original thinkers, cite a wealth of real-world evidence in support of those ideas, and package it all in a form that can likely be understood by the average high school graduate. Give Me a Break! is a very good introduction to classical liberal thinking. If you want an even more passionate exposition of these ideas, read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, or if you want a deeper, more original discussion, read the writers Stossel cites. But at a minimum, read Give Me a Break!.