"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." —H.L. Mencken
Ever wonder why Washington is stuck? It just can’t seem to get a grip on adopting practical policies for the common good. The Constitution directs Uncle Sam to “promote the general Welfare.” Instead he promotes a whole lot of Army generals and stokes a few welfare programs.
Welcome to the “warfare/welfare” state. But… why so?
Wonder no longer. Here comes John Tamny. He’s an old Washington hand, editor of Real Clear Markets and a long time Forbes.com contributor who recruited me into 8 years of writing columns there. (Now, I’m here.) Tamny has distilled what he has learned into a new book, "They’re Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America’s Frustrated Independent Thinkers."
It’s my new secret decoder ring. Follow along.
Tamny nails both major political parties as engaged in scorched-earth hyperbole. Both parties are living inside of some kind of faith-based ideology. Or mania. Tamny, unsportsmanlike, introduces them to actual facts.
That politics has a lot of muggery is not exactly new news. Some of the wittiest, wisest, writers — Bastiat, Swift, Voltaire, Mencken, O’Rourke — made mincemeat of politicos. Tamny here joins this merry canon.
Literary wits, 0.
Mencken’s still my favorite:
"Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."
Still, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”
So, Tamny? Bring it on.
Tamny now joins in with the most enjoyable inventory of political folly in many years. Steve Forbes calls it a "must-read masterpiece" and O’Rourke says “Politics is the idea that all of society’s ills can be cured politically. … Tamny argues that you’re better off doing your own ideological home cooking.”
So what does Tamny, say?
Basically, “Don’t panic.”
Things are not nearly as dire as the political class, and their handmaidens — the liberal media — would have you believe. The endless series of hobgoblins are, indeed, mostly imaginary.
So what hobgoblins does Tamny slay? Tamny is a sure-enough conservative, a center-right libertarian. Notwithstanding his conscientious efforts to even-handedly proclaim “a pox on both your houses” his right hook leaves bruises but his left hook doesn’t leave enough of the left’s arguments to bury. As myself a man of the right perhaps I am biased. But Tamny slays a slew of silly leftist pieties.
If you are a conservative (or libertarian) who enjoys merry argument between us Neanderthals and them Snowflakes you will find abundant ammo here. Those who relish drinking the tears of progressive snowflakes will find themselves exceptionally well hydrated.
Tamny summons powerful evidence that the left is showing poorly grounded hysteria over climate change, corporate myopia, tax policy, the minimum wage, and “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects. And much more. Conservatives get mocked for worship of Big Oil, idolatry of school choice, and deranged opposition to free trade and immigration (the latter two populist, not conservative, shibboleths). And more.
The solution? Tamny proposes the panacea of decentralizing government from the Big Uncle to the cities and states.
This does not go quite far enough. I have elsewhere called for the wholesale repeal of the Constitution and restoration of the Articles of Confederation (whilst keeping the Bill of Rights). The Articles were replaced by the Constitution because the powers of taxation and regulation they gave the federal government thought were too weak.
Back then the tiny former colonies were threatened by Old World imperialism. We needed a stronger central government. Now conservatives find Uncle Sam too big, feral, and overbearing. Time to return to America’s original status as Swiss-style confederacy with a domesticated federal government. But yes, Tamny’s distributing powers to the states and cities would be a step in the right direction.
Will it happen? Unlikely.
Withal I take solace from Mencken:
"I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men."
John Tamny’s "They’re Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America’s Frustrated Independent Thinkers" will delight you. Even better, give it as a wonderfully mischievous holiday gift for that crazy progressive (but I am being redundant) uncle in your attic.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $83T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior advisor, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as general counsel to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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