If you get your information about American politics from the media, politicians, and even from a lot of Washington, DC think tanks, you’re doing it wrong. It goes without saying that politics is about mass mobilization and power; narratives and oversimplification are the tools of the trade. That would be fine if real-life consequences didn’t come out of half-baked ideas about policy, but guess what, they do. If you find yourself constantly frustrated by the superficial and borderline false explanations given to support various political agendas, then you should look into John Tamny’s latest book, They’re Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America’s Frustrated Independent Thinkers. The name speaks for itself and Tamny spares no time taking aim at both Conservatives and Liberals, dismantling their frequently peddled narratives, besting their emotional facade with independent, fact-based analysis.
Today, it is rare to find any sort of analysis that resembles Tamny’s independent and truth-focused writing. Few people in politics seem to care about looking a couple inches below the surface and a few steps ahead into the future when it comes to making the case for their policies. Why would they? Politics is war, power is the end that justifies the means, victory is all that matters. If it riles up the masses and gets the right team elected, that’s all they could ask for. The problem with the way all this works however, is that politicians don’t need to live with the consequences of their decisions. The rest of us definitely do. That’s why the level of analysis and thought Tamny exercises in his book is so desperately needed in today’s politics. To bring back some semblance of concern for the consequences of the policies politicians are empowered to make and to usher in some sobriety to the drunken party that is Washington, DC.
Unlike the other books I review, Tamny’s book doesn’t have some groundbreaking thesis or an ultimate idea. It’s quite straightforward and the title says it all. The book itself is a collection of essays, each touching on a common belief or talking point perpetuated by either the American left or right. Each essay could essentially function as a policy brief discussing with a high degree of detail and insight on why a certain talking point is mistaken. At the end of the book, the reader will have received an introduction into how to think clearly about important issues in American politics. Whether or not you agree with Tamny’s reasoning, you will at least be able to see past the emotional appeal of certain ideas and start thinking about the facts. That is certainly something we can all agree is important, especially today.
Debunking Conservative and Liberal Narratives
Tamny doesn’t wait to warm up the reader; he goes right for the hot stuff by starting off the book with a chapter on immigration and conservatives. We hear it all the time; “Build the wall,” “Protect American jobs,” and “Immigrants are just here to take welfare.” In an interview with Tamny, I asked him what conservatives are missing when it comes to immigration.
His answer: “Basic economics.”
According to Tamny, the Conservative aversion to immigration seems to go against everything that they ever believed in and also just falls short of reality. Firstly, how will a wall along the Mexican border help anything? Roughly a thousand people still manage to escape North Korea every year, the most totalitarian regime on the planet. How big is the government going to have to get to fund a border wall over 1,700 miles long and adequately patrol it? Not only is that a silly question but conservatives would be betraying their commitment to limited government.
When immigrants come to this country they are not here to take welfare. They are here to establish a better life and have a shot at prosperity. That’s why someone would flee Communist North Korea or the Soviet Union for America. Last time I checked, there are more handouts in socialist countries and people leave those countries for places like America. Immigrants want to come to work, not take welfare. Tamny points out in his book that immigration was at its most recent lows during the Obama administration, not the Trump administration. The reason for this is simple; President Obama presided over a worse economy. I’m sure the Obama administration was far more open and accommodating than the Trump administration but immigrants are interested in working. There was more work to go around during the Trump and Bush administrations and the immigration trends follow that.
“If immigrants were in fact crossing the border for handouts as conservatives regularly argue, wouldn’t the Obama years have coincided with a massive increase in crossings? Wasn’t Obama all about amnesty and handouts as is?
Furthermore, immigration restrictions to protect workers are basically central planning and antithetical to free markets. A competitive and dynamic workforce is good for everybody. Companies get better choices for workers which in turn produces better services for everyone. Lower costs, more inventions, and more services brought about by immigration produces net benefits for society.
Just like central planning frequently trips over its own feet in attempting to predict and run all market transactions, so too does attempting to “protect American jobs.” Which jobs are conservatives referring to when they say that? Do they somehow know exactly what jobs are being protected now and forever into the future? How do they know that the immigrants they let in won’t in some way contribute to the creation of new jobs? That’s a silly question because the notion that the government can somehow be an all-knowing and all-powerful benevolent steward of each and every one of our jobs is a fatal conceit. Something a Socialist like Bernie Sanders might think, not a Conservative.
Tamny has many more chapters where he debunks conservative talking points and dives into the facts surrounding everything from school choice to domestic energy production.
He also saves equal room for the Liberals to make sure they get their turn to have their bubbles popped.
Just to pick a random topic, Tamny goes after the left hard on their demagoguery over corporations. If you thought Conservatives perpetuated economically questionable and factually dubious narratives about immigration, take a look at how liberal politicians talk about corporations. According to labor unions and their allies in politics, you would think that we all live under the boot of corporate tyranny. Normal people like you and me are worked to the bone for scraps as rich fat cats at the top enrich themselves with the fruits of our labor. Then they put their money into cementing their power by rigging the system.
That would be somewhat reasonable if there wasn’t an entire wing of American politics that demonizes corporations. It’s not tyranny if half of Congress is opposed to this alleged corporate scheme. However, Tamny digs a bit deeper than just that. If you look at the state of the workforce right now with NBA players collecting millions of dollars and workers at oppressive corporations like Facebook getting impressive new work complexes it seems like corporations are doing all the work. Corporations are bigger than ever and we are all collectively more wealthy and more comfortable than ever before. If anything, the bigger the corporation, the better the employees are treated.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of cases of worker abuse and poor working conditions, but that’s also just how humans treat each other and all of history is dominated by poor working conditions. What has done more for worker welfare is not onerous labor regulations but increased competition and commercial success. When companies are forced to fight over workers, they treat them better. When companies make a profit, those gains are passed down to all members of the firm be it through pay raises, benefits, or fancy new amenities.
Would you rather work in a startup in someone’s garage where your boss can only afford to pay you minimum wage and you all share a table, or would you rather work at Apple’s fancy new campus? Employment is a two-way street. Employees and corporations both have something they each want. In a free-market economy, such relationships are governed by a system of competing interests and facilitated by mutual benefit.
“Benefits focused on retaining the best workers aren’t just a Silicon Valley or a Wall Street concept. People are essential and companies, far from exploiting them, are going out of their way to retain them.”
This is not to suggest that corporations are perfect or that those who are skeptical of corporate power are completely wrong. The main takeaway here as with every chapter in Tamny’s book is to look beyond the surface narrative you are being given. Perhaps you have found Tamny’s explanation about corporate power or immigrants unconvincing. That’s fine but rather than engaging with the fear-mongering narratives surrounding corporations and immigrants, do some independent research. Don’t be satisfied with the first thing out of your favorite politician who just wants your vote or that news anchor who wants to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
The bottom line: Do your own research, understand what you’re talking about, and engage honestly. Emotions and soaring rhetoric sound great on TV but that is not how you run a country.
Tamny’s book is incredibly refreshing and intellectually stimulating, especially in polarized times like this. Although the common narratives Conservatives and Liberals like to use may be entertaining, perhaps even inspiring, they cannot be more harmful. Politics first and foremost is conflict. It’s about power and victory more than it is about the truth. In They’re Both Wrong, Tamny gives his thoughts on the problems associated with the various talking points that both sides like to offer.
Although I am not saying that he is right about everything or that each chapter is to be treated as the final word on a matter, his book starts a conversation based on facts, not emotions. You may disagree with him but there is no denying that he cares about the consequences of his ideas and not just winning the argument. However, it must be said that after reading, I find it difficult to disagree with him. If anything, reading this book will give the reader a strong foundation in which to approach political issues.
Such a book is essential not just because it provides insightful commentary on important political issues but because it provides a timeless lesson. This is that a country, a government, and a society cannot sustain itself on a foundation of weak narratives. Independent thought and rigorous conversations are what form the backbone of a vibrant democracy.