Common sense in American public life is on the ropes—or perhaps it is actually down for the count. America’s progressive ruling class has not simply abandoned common sense, it is making war on common sense.
Examples abound. The newest Supreme Court justice claims not to know what a woman is. The Biden Administration has the Border Patrol welcoming illegal border crossers, providing for their needs, giving them smartphones, and sending them on their way to towns and cities across America—instead of protecting America’s borders. There is widespread agreement among the educational and medical elites that young boys must be provided with surgeries, hormones, and drugs to “become girls” and young girls must be provided with surgeries, hormones, and drugs to “become boys” if that is what the children believe they want. I could go on and on, but there is no need; you get the picture.
Yet 2022 has been a banner year for commonsense books. The banner year began with Angelo Codevilla’s magnificent book on foreign policy, America’s Rise and Fall Among Nations. The year is closing out with John Tamny’s magnificent The Money Confusion. A commonsense book must be brief, clear, and readily accessible to any sensible citizen. Both of these are. And a commonsense book must sweep away all the confusion it addresses. Both of these do. But what makes these two commonsense books worthwhile is that they can equip the American people to fulfill their duty to the Constitution. We, the sovereign people, are ultimately responsible for putting America back on track and then keeping America on track.
America was once known as “the commonsense nation.” When America was the commonsense nation, it quite naturally had a commonsense foreign policy. That foreign policy—and the abandonment of it—is the subject of Codevilla’s book.
America’s commonsense foreign policy is simple to state: America minded its own business and left other people to mind theirs. That policy was followed with scarcely a misstep by America’s leaders from the time of the founders through the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. It succeeded spectacularly, and America rose among the nations of the world.
America’s original foreign policy was most clearly articulated by John Quincy Adams. Codevilla presents Adams’ view with simple clarity:
just as others’ business, others’ quarrels, and others’ objectives are rightfully and inescapably their own, America is the sole, sovereign judge of its own business, of what our own safety and welfare require. This, Adams argued, is international law as well as common sense.
The election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912 brought an end to America’s commonsense foreign policy and to the era of America’s peace among nations. America’s progressive elite swiftly imposed a new foreign policy that rejected the principles that had worked so well—and plunged America into 11 disastrous decades of international quagmires.
The moment I encountered that foreign policy was during John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Notice he does not say the survival and the success of America. Kennedy’s pledge—and the progressive foreign policy it articulates—is not about minding our own business, and it is certainly not common sense.
I was horrified. Sure enough, my friends were soon being scooped up and sent to Vietnam and elsewhere, some returning in caskets, some returning maimed for life. Progressive foreign policy has given America defeat after defeat, memorably in Vietnam and also in Afghanistan, where today the Taliban rule, armed with advanced American weapons worth billions of dollars. Surely America has had enough of the folly of progressive foreign policy.
Codevilla’s book shows Americans how to restore common sense and sanity to America’s foreign policy.
Tamny’s book shows American citizens how to restore common sense and sanity to America’s economic policy. We cannot depend on the experts in that arena, any more than we can depend on the foreign policy experts. Economists, pundits, and politicians misunderstand money and inflation to a frightening degree. That’s because they have abandoned common sense. Tamny: “What’s lacking among economists and those reporting on them is common sense.” All you need to free yourself from the experts’ confusion is your own common sense—and a little help from your friend and mine, John Tamny. He even makes it seem easy.
Tamny’s theme is that it’s essential that money be trusted as a measure in the same way that the mile, the degree, and tablespoon are trusted. He begins by quoting Adam Smith: “The sole use of money is to circulate consumable goods.” In short order, he quotes John Maynard Keynes: the market “presumes a stable measuring-rod of value, and cannot be efficient—perhaps cannot survive—without one.” Everything in the book follows from this simple yet profoundly important commonsense understanding of money.
American economic policy, like American foreign policy, has been inflicting waste, suffering, and tragedy on America. In 1933, FDR, the greatest progressive of them all, issued a presidential decree devaluing the dollar by an astonishing 59 percent. The dollar went from a fixed rate of $20.67 per ounce of gold to $35, robbing ordinary Americans by diminishing the value of their savings and the value of any money they were owed. True, that’s not on the level of Argentina or Zimbabwe but, together with other ruinous progressive policies, it devastated the American economy.
Tamny quotes Keynes: “There is no subtler, surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch [devalue] the currency.” Not to be outdone, in 1971, Nixon severed the dollar’s link to gold, transforming the dollar into a fiat currency. By the time Gerald Ford entered the White House in 1974, the dollar was in freefall. Today, an ounce of gold is valued at more than $1,650. Since gold is stable in value, that is an accurate measure of the dollar’s decline.
Americans no longer say as they once did “sound as the dollar,” yet America must have a sound dollar, as it once did, because trusted money is a driver of progress and productivity. Tamny shows the way, and is optimistic about the future.
What both books make clear is that “experts” have been allowed to have their way in America for far too long. Here’s Codevilla again:
Progressivism’s core proposition [is] that the correct path in human affairs is to be discovered through specialized knowledge rather than by politically responsible common sense.
The one thing you can say for Dr. Anthony Fauci is that he has shown once and for all the folly of progressivism’s core proposition. It is time for America to return to politically responsible common sense.
If you are interested in the founders’ vision of America ruled by the common sense of the American people, you might also consider my book, Common Sense Nation. Taken together, these three small books will show you how a restored America can be the America the founders intended.