3 Reasons to Read “Popular Economics”

Even if you are not a member of the 1 percent.

May 10, 2015
by John Tamny
Published in April of 2015
I don’t agree with almost anything that John Tamny writes in Popular Economics. I suspect that if you take me up on my recommendation to read the book that you may have a similar set of reactions. (For the conservative readers of IHE - you higher ed contrarians - and the economists in our community - you should also read the book with little worry that you will find much that is objectionable).  
Before telling you why I recommend Popular Economics, let’s be clear on where this book will drive must of you crazy. Popular Economics is a full-throated defense of trickle down economics. The class that Tamny seems to be worried about most in U.S. society is that constantly harassed and exploited group - otherwise known as the 1 percent. If you believe the arguments in Popular Economics you will take to the barricades to:  a) lower corporate taxes, b) bring back the gold standard, and c) end all government regulation and oversight (from airlines to finance to pharmaceuticals). In Tamny’s worldview, inequality is beautiful and government spending necessarily starves the economy. Tamny has very little to say about higher education, but my guess is that he has little problem with the ongoing disinvestment in our public institutions.  
So why am I recommending this book?  3 reasons:
1 - I Learned Some Things:
Just because I don’t agree with Tamny’s analysis and policy solutions, that does not mean that his ideas are not worth debating. Tamny approaches the challenges of unemployment and economic growth with only good intentions.  We tend to attack the motives, rather than the arguments, of that that we disagree with. I think that Tamny is articulate, well-read, and persuasive (although he did not persuade me), and that his arguments should be debated on their merits. In reading Popular Economics I gained some good insights into the thinking of those who truly believe that public spending is necessarily wasteful (unless that spending is on the Pentagon). There are also elements where I found some agreement, such as Tamy’s full-throated defense of free-trade and his desire to encourage entrepreneurial risk taking. After reading this book I think that my own economic arguments will be sharper, and that I’ll think more critically about my own long-held beliefs.
2 - Tamny Is a Good Writer:
Tamny seemed to have a good time writing this book. His enthusiasm for his subject comes through on every page. Popular Economics may not change your beliefs, but it will consistently make keep you on your toes and make you think.  Tamny does a good job of bringing in popular culture to make his more fundamental (if wrongheaded) economic conclusions. Any book that can combine an explanation of why Lebron James should not play football with why Keith Richards was better off not making his residence at Downton Abbey is probably worth at least some of your time.
3 - We Should Listen To Arguments That We Oppose:   
My guess is that John Tamny came to campus to give a talk that he would get a respectful reception. We might disagree with what he said, but the Q&A would be courteous and we may even enjoy a good discussion over a meal with colleagues.  Have we achieved that same level of respectful discourse in our online communities?  Do we seek out online the opinions of those that we may disagree? How much of our media diet includes viewpoints and conclusions that run counter to our own? Popular Economics might be a good place to start if you wish to understand those on the other end of the idealogical spectrum. The ideas in the book are seldom strident, always good humored, and almost totally misguided. If you are going to choose one economically conservative book to read this year you could do worse than to choose Popular Economics.
What are your reading?


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