Book Review: A Fresh, Radical, Uncompromising Defense of Economic Freedom

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John Tamny, the editor RealClearMarkets, is coming out in April with a startlingly insightful book: Popular Economics.

This is a different kind of economics book: it is inductive, drawing lessons from the concretes found in today's headlines and contemporary culture. The subtitle is: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics.

This inductive approach to economics makes the book unique--and entertaining. In regard to content, the great virtue of Popular Economics is that it is 100% on the premise of the primacy of production. I thought I was, too, but the book taught me new applications of productionism and that I need to be even more focused on how interventionism destroys capital.

The best way to communicate the value of the book is to give some quotes.

"The capital gains tax is the penalty the government places on [one's] success."

"In a sane world, a decline in wealth inequality would be cause for worry, because it would signal reduced opportunity for the ambitious and a stagnating standard of living for everyone else."

"Investment is the only wealth multiplier."

"Housing is a consumptive good. . . . Any central bank policy meant to stimulate home buying will retard economic growth because the purchase of a house takes money out of capital markets for business."

"working for the government means never having to say you're sorry. . . . The market sees to it that poorly run businesses are starved of capital so that they cannot waste any more of it. Government, by contrast, devotes
more human and financial resources to what isn't working."

"The regulatory state has convinced its citizens that it is the only thing standing between them and the law of the jungle. The truth, as we have seen, is quite the opposite. It's time to scrap the whole misbegotten system, in which the blind lead the sighted and the mediocre drive out the talented."

"Antitrust is ultimately about using government force to make the excellent less excellent."

"No act of saving ever detracts from demand."

"An economy robbed of failure is also robbed of success, because failure provides knowledge about how to succeed. Failure is the healthy process whereby a poorly run entity is deprived of the ability to do more economic harm."

You've got to love the title of his last chapter: "Conclusion: 'Do-Nothing'Politicians Deserve a Special Place in Heaven."

I've singled out the quotable lines, but each point is a lesson drawn from looking at concretes. And his presentation of the concretes is brief and to the point. The writing style, as you can gather from the quotes, is clear and entertaining. Mr. Tamny's perspective is not statistical or dryly practical but, as the quotes indicate, integrative--including the integration of the moral and the practical.

It's a rare treat to find a book that gives clear voice to important ideas that you already hold. Popular Economics certainly offers that pleasure, but it goes way beyond that. It teaches new truths and helps pro-capitalist readers integrate more tightly and compactly the principles of the free market. For readers who are not radical capitalists, it will be jaw-dropping.

In the whole book, there are only a couple of places where I have something approaching disagreement--and it's more like doubts or questions. For instance, he advocates a government-defined gold standard, (as did Ayn Rand), which I oppose. But these small question marks melt away when considering the profound value of this fresh, radical, uncompromising explanation and defense of economic freedom.


Harry Binswanger is an Objectivist philosopher, and was a close associate of Ayn Rand. He blogs at  

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