Home » News » Liberty + Leadership Podcast – Tim Carney on Social Capital: The Key to America’s Success

Liberty + Leadership Podcast – Tim Carney on Social Capital: The Key to America’s Success

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Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 in this week’s Liberty + Leadership Podcast as he sits down with Tim Carney, Novak ’03, an acclaimed author and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Tim takes us on his fascinating experience working with Robert Novak, the “Prince of Darkness” and how his TFAS Novak Fellowship inspired him to write gripping books like “The Big Ripoff” and “Alienated America.”

In this thought-provoking discussion, Tim discusses the vital importance and meaning of “social capital.” Tune in for Tim’s fantastic overview of economic competition, cronyism, civil society, localism and religion in America.

Tim Carney is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where he focuses on economic competition, cronyism, civil society, localism, and religion in America. He is also a senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner and a noted author, whose books include “The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money,” “Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses,” and “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.” Tim was the recipient of a 2003 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. He published his first book based on his Novak Fellowship project, “Regulatory Robber Barons” and earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.

 


Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism. Today my guest is Tim Carney, a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow in 2003 and currently Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Senior Political Columnist at The Washington Examiner. We’re going to speak with Tim about his work with Robert Novak, the famed political journalist, and his extensive journalism and writing career, including at AEI and The Washington Examiner. Our topics are likely to range from politics and economics to religion and culture. All those subjects which we’re told not to talk about at the dinner table. Tim, thank you for taking the time to join me today.

Tim Carney [00:00:57] Thanks, Roger. My pleasure.

Roger Ream [00:00:59] Let’s begin. At the beginning, not quite the beginning of your life, but the beginning of your career, you had an internship with Robert Novak. That must have been something. As I recall, it may have been arranged The National Journalism Center, great organization.

Tim Carney [00:01:17] I did National Journalism Center, and then I landed at Human Events after graduation.

Roger Ream [00:01:23] Okay, good. Well, what was it like working for Bob Novak, the Prince of darkness?

Tim Carney [00:01:28] It was intimidating. Just even the job interview. I had been recommended by my predecessor and my predecessor’s predecessor, and the job was to be the reporter. It was “go out there and find scoops and leads” because Novak, he was on the Opinion page, but everybody who remembers him knows that every single column he wrote had previously unreported facts. And, of course, he did 99% of that, but occasionally, I was expected to go out and find a nugget. The job interview basically amounted to your recommended at this, I’m just going to trust these guys that you’re going to be good and go, and it was daunting. It was it was a great experience. I also wrote a political newsletter, “The Evans Novak Political Report,” which my job was to call in to like 435 congressional districts develop sources, figure out who was going to win the Democratic primary, and then who was going to win the general election, and what the different dynamics of the election were. It was better than any grad school anybody could ever get in journalism. He was a great boss. A lot of people feared him. I was, I think, properly afraid of him. Somebody once asked: “what would he do if you missed the deadline?” And I said: “it’s never even crossed my mind that I might possibly miss it.” But what a great education it was.

Roger Ream [00:02:58] Let me ask, was Roland Evans working with Bob at the time?

Tim Carney [00:03:02] No. So, Roland had passed away when I was at Human Events just a year before in 2001. So, I had Evans’s old desk. It was moved out into the main part of the office, and that’s where I sat. The newsletter was still called The Evans Novak Political Report. So, Novak was writing this column three days a week, he was doing tons of CNN, he was executive producer on Capital Gang. So, I didn’t work directly on the CNN stuff, except sometimes the reporting I would do, if I did get a good nugget, a good scoop then he might roll that out on CNN before he put in his column. It was a great opportunity.

Roger Ream [00:03:45] Well when I joined The Fund for American Studies, we were looking for someone to serve as the Director of the Institute on Political Journalism. It had been Lee Edwards and then Clark Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist. I had lunch with Roland Evans because he retired as a working journalist, and I was hoping he would take on the task. I remember fondly a lunch I had with him at the Metropolitan Club, he talked about his fondness for skiing and having gone skiing every year with Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley in Utah, I think, but in the end, I couldn’t convince him to do it. But we found Fred Barnes as our director so.

Tim Carney [00:04:26] Well, and Evans and Novak had very different personalities. I would talk to all of Novak’s friends and colleagues and get all the history. And we also got to edit the first draft of Novak’s memoirs. So, if you’ve seen the Prince of Darkness, which is a great history of American politics in the 20th century, it’s 600 and something pages. The first draft would have been about 1300 pages, and none of it was bad, they thought that they didn’t want it to look like a Robert Caro book or some massive encyclopedia. So, I got to read the first draft of all of that. Some of the funny stuff and some of this remains but was the differences between the two that Evans was like a society wasp. I mean, he was friends with the Kennedys. He had access to all that stuff. And Novak was kind of the opposite. He was an outsider when he showed up in Washington from his AP jobs in Indianapolis and Omaha, etc., and he showed up in Washington, D.C., and knew nobody, had no connections, and just through his scrappiness and sort of willingness to rock the boat became this excellent reporter. So, Evans called on him to co-write the column with them when they started doing that. At first it was every day of the week. Imagine that a reported column seven days a week. But the difference between their backgrounds or personalities was intriguing and made the column an absolute must read for everybody in Washington for decades.

Roger Ream [00:06:03] Well, I mentioned having read The Prince of Darkness and thinking: “it is an outstanding book,” as you described it. I’ve always wanted to get my hands on those other 600 pages that didn’t make the final cut because they must be fascinating stories in there, too. I will say that it’s a book that we just interviewed, the candidates, the finalists for our 2023/24 Joseph Rago fellowship at The Wall Street Journal, and the person we selected, we haven’t made the announcement yet, but I put in the mail a copy of Prince of Darkness and said: “read this before you start the fellowship, it’ll be helpful.” We give it to the Novak Fellows each year when we select them, because it has a great political history and says a lot about journalism as well. Now, you received a Novak Fellowship. The program was inspired by Bob Novak, funded and started by Tom Phillips, who had served on our board for many years, and it is a great program, we’ve continued. Tell me about your fellowship in that program.

Tim Carney [00:07:09] Sure. So, this story would go back to when I was at Human Events before I was working for Novak, when Terry Jeffrey, who was my editor there, he called me into the office one day and he said: “there is a federal agency called the Export-Import Bank. Have you ever heard of that?” And I said: “is it a bank or is it a federal agency?” He said: “exactly.” This is the intersection of money and politics, specifically of industry and government. And he said: “every time those two things intersect; you’re going to find some corruption. So, go.” I researched the heck out of this agency, and I found all sorts of things. I found them funding a Chinese government agency that was guilty of nuclear weapons proliferation. I found them building factories in Mexico, U.S. government subsidizing new factories in Mexico that were displacing workers in Indiana, making refrigerators and all sorts of stuff like that. As I was doing this reporting, I started to realize: “wait a second, so many of our friends in the free market movement, right as if big business is automatically our friend.” And so many people who criticize big business, right as if big government is the way to rein it in. So, I saw that there was an opening there, and thinking a little bit like a capitalist and looking at what was not being exploited, that was a proposal I came up with and it became both “The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money.” And so, it goes through. When I got this, I was able to have it be my full-time job to write this book. So, I left Novak’s office after the ’04 elections and would wake up every morning and just dive into the research and start writing. I remember I was living in Capitol Hill rowhouse house with my brother. Some days I never even left the second floor because I had a coffee maker there, and my brother once brought me breakfast and the bathroom were up there. So, I didn’t need to, and I just was so immersed in it. So, that opportunity as a 25-year-old to just dive deep into a subject, to write a book proposal, shop it around. By the grace of God, I got an editor interested in and that Wiley, the publishing house, and it became a book in 2006, “The Big Ripoff.” Beyond that, what the sort of book did, it was not a bestseller, unfortunately, but it did establish me as something of an expert in that. And one day after mass at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, I brought two copies, before it came out. I gave two copies to Bridget Wagner at Heritage Foundation, and I said: “give this to somebody else.” The person she gave it to was Mark Tapscott. Mark was unbeknownst to her leaving Heritage to interview to be the opinion editor at The Washington Examiner. So, when he had to hire a new columnist, he happened to have my book in his bag, so he called me up, and that’s where I’ve been working now since since then. So, the book spiraled into so many other things, and the fellowship gave me the chance. If you look there, 700 notes at the end of that book. It’s a deeply researched book because as a 25-year-old, I didn’t think anyone care what my opinion was. And as a Novak protege, I thought I should let my facts do the arguing rather than my own arguments.

Roger Ream [00:10:29] Yeah, and that tied in a little bit to your second book “Obamanomics,” because that carries that theme through and looks at the Obama administration. I guess your subtitle is “How Barack Obama is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists and Union Bosses.” So, you carried that theme forward several years later.

Tim Carney [00:10:51] Yeah, it basically the Obama era sequel to “The Big Ripoff” and the combination of those two books was why AEI called me. When they started focusing on cronyism, they decided: “okay, the real enemy to the free market is not Bernie Sanders socialism, that only gets so far. It’s big business cronyism for a variety of reasons.” And so, when they wanted to start doing more work on that, my having written these two books made me the natural guy to call and they brought me on as a fellow. So, “The Big Ripoff” really did spiral into both of my jobs.

Roger Ream [00:11:24] Thanks to Bob Novak, Tom Phillips, and that program for what it did for you. Let’s talk a little bit about your most recent book, “Alienating America.” It’s important, I think, also to mention the subtitle, which is “Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.” I think the book did well, sold well, certainly was influential and required extensive and very impressive reporting on your part. I mean, you probably wore out several pairs of shoes, traveling to communities, looking at isolation of that many Americans experience. You discuss key factors contributing to the phenomena you discovered in your research. What prompted you to write that book? And please describe your approach to it, and I’ll mention it was published in 2019 so that listeners understand it was after the election of Donald Trump when many of the themes in the book came forward into the public policy debate.

Tim Carney [00:12:30] I guess, the sort of starting point of how alienated America came to be, and there’s multiple different ones that converged, but as I mentioned earlier, when I was working for Novak, I would call in to I would travel to all the different states. You know, go to Iowa and New Hampshire, but also out of Pennsylvania and out to Utah, etc. And so, I got to visit these places and learn about America, which really is just the most fun job I could have. At Novak and The Washington Examiner, this was my job as a columnist. I would get up and I would go. Something was happening in North Carolina, a Senate race, a rally for, you know, John Edwards or whoever it was, and I would go out there. One of the things that I would say got me asking the questions was right before the first time Donald Trump said Make America Great Again. You remember in the summer of 2015, he comes down the escalator, is announcing his run, his speech rambles all over the place, and then to sort of come home and hit that punch line: “we’re going to make America great again.” He said: “the American dream is dead.” And I just remember thinking, I don’t think the American dream is dead. And in 2015, the economy was doing well. Unemployment was way down. And frankly, in Washington, D.C., suburbs and in these industries, I had the American dream in my life. I was like a T-ball coach with five kids living in the suburbs. It was great. And a lot of the places I saw that was true. So, I went to Trump rallies, and I started asking: “you know, what needs to be made great again about America? What is great now?” And it’s so funny, when I would listen to those interviews where I clearly didn’t hear the answers at first. I wanted people to talk about immigration policy or trade policy or something that was policy, right? That’s what we do in Washington. But they all kept telling stories about when they were kids and the Memorial Day parades in their hometown or about how they used to know their neighbors or about their church closing. And after enough of these conversations and after reading Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and reading “Bowling Alone” and reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” I started to realize that what was the part of the American dream that was dead for so many people, was belonging. The sort of things that a guy like me was taking for granted. I belonged to a Catholic parent. I send my kids to Catholic schools. I have two employers where, you know, if something goes wrong, people are delivering frozen casseroles into our freezer and that a lot of working-class America doesn’t have that. It wasn’t just at the factory clothes 40 years ago. It was that then the church closed, too. That’s what alienation is, that I argued. It started with another starting point. It was the editor ended up publishing it at HarperCollins. He said: “Hey, if you ever read a book since Obamanomics, what idea do you have?” And I gave him some. And he said: “none of those are good.” He said: “what question do you have that you don’t know the answer to?” And I said: “why do so many people think the American dream is dead?” So, a year later, I got back to him with the answer, and I said: “it’s the collapse of community institutions in so much of working-class America.” And thankfully, a lot of the reporting I’ve done over the years helped tell this story when I look back at it through that lens.

Roger Ream [00:16:01] It’s interesting. In fact, I have a copy of the book here, I’m going to hold up. It’s interesting. In the book you write about social capital. At one point, in very early on, you talk about the experience you had when your daughter even was in the hospital, an intensive care unit. You describe the insurance of social networks that came forward. Just like you had health insurance to pay the bills, you had an insurance of social networks that did some of those things. You just touched on family and church and employers who supported your family through that process by bringing meals and handling the carpools. Talk a bit about this concept of social capital. That’s a key theme of the book.

Tim Carney [00:16:48] So, when I finally got ahold of my wife, I was running Eve to the hospital. She was at Mass with the oldest daughter, and she just left our daughter there. And that’s always one of the moments that makes me smile. She just knew that if Katie Carney runs out of mass and leaves the 11-year-old there, something is going on. And we should just somebody should give the 11-year-old a ride home. So, that happened. And then the carpool. We couldn’t drive in the carpool because we had to make sure one of us was always at the hospital with the baby. So, everybody else just stepped up. It wasn’t hard for us. These people who who we knew and had worked with and prayed with and studied with, etc., everybody just stepped up. And that’s why it was like an insurance policy, because it was sort of, it instantly went into effect. And one of the things that happened was, when people were bringing dark chocolate to my wife or barbecue to me at the hospital, and one of the nurses said: “who are all these people bring you stuff?” I didn’t think about it, but as I described who they were, it revealed something. This is while I was writing the book, it was another realization. I said: “oh, that guy was a guy from The Examiner. That other woman was a colleague from AEI. This one got shipped by somebody from my son’s T-ball team. I coached that kid in Little League,” and all my descriptions of our friends, there was a hub, there was a mediating institution between us. So, it wasn’t just: “oh, the Carnies have a lot of friends.” The Carnies belong to things, and that gives them this network. So, that’s a way to think of social capital, sort of an economic term, right? Like we had invested in these organizations by spending time, volunteering, etc. and then we were getting a ton out of it. So, it wasn’t like spending, we’re spending time, but it was investing because then when the time came, the payoff was massive. But it’s also not strictly economic too, right? Because nobody’s doing an accounting. It’s not: “oh, I’ll, I’ll do this, if you do that.” It’s relational. You give up your life to these things you belong to, and then if you need it, then you get an immeasurable payback from it.

Roger Ream [00:19:13] So, let’s look at where it fails today or where it’s missing. I’ve always reacted somewhat to the Putnam theme of Bowling Alone, that while we don’t see bowling leagues the extent we did in past decades, they’ve been replaced by, you know, Little League and soccer games on Saturday and that they bring the community, the parents, the children together through sports activities, through other activities. Is the problem with the lack of social capital a problem in and people not joining and going to a church regularly, not being employed perhaps, and having a network of fellow employees who can help? Is the failure kind of a micro problem that we as Americans need to be in those associations that Tocqueville saw existed a century ago? Or is it that there’s something institutionally wrong at the top? That’s the problem.

Tim Carney [00:20:16] It’s kind of all the above, and anytime you see something happening culture wide, I always think it’s totally inadequate to say: “oh, well, people are making a wrong decision.” The point of culture is to align people’s short-term incentives with long term incentives, right? This is why we tell people to be polite, etc., and why we enforce norms and manners, etc. and a culture is crumbling if there’s less incentive for somebody to join because in the long run, joining belonging, working together, volunteering is good for the individual and for society. But in the short term, to a lot of people, it’s not that appealing. The word in the title Alienation. Robert Nisbet, who wrote “Quest for a Community,” he had a definition of it, which was not just belonging to things, but not seeing the point in civil society, not seeing the purpose in belonging. And that’s what I think our problem is that a lot of things have driven people away or drawn people away from belonging. And so, you referred to the institutions and the most important institution of civil society for the middle class in America has always been the church. So, the church is one of the one of the culprits here. I mean, my church, the Catholic Church, committed horrible crimes by covering up horrible crimes. And so, if that drove people away, that’s on the church leadership. Other churches decided: “oh, what we need to do is be more relevant and become exactly like the pop culture.” And so, the music or the ceremonies just try to blend in and become more, more pop culture. And that drove people away to or become inoffensive. So, there’s a lot of errors on behalf of the church other people. At the same time, technology provided a challenge. You know, when we first moved to the suburbs, if we were away all day, we asked our neighbors: “hey, can you let our dog out in the backyard, let them run around,” etc. And then a decade later, my wife just like press a couple of buttons. There’s an app and some stranger showed up who became friends with our dog, and we never met him because he would show up when we were gone. So, the free market replaced sort of the transaction of the free market, replace the relation of neighborliness. And so, there’s two chapters on sort of the root causes of this. One is over-centralization, whether it’s cultural or governmental over centralization. Obviously, the Great Society drove a lot of churches out of the charitable work they did, but the other is hyper-individualism. And if those two things sound opposite to you, Tocqueville went ahead and addressed it 200 years ago. My colleague, boss here at AEI, he says: “hyper individualism and over centralization are two sides of the same coin.” And that’s sort of a central argument through Alienated America.

Roger Ream [00:23:16] Like, let’s explore this hyper individualism for a minute, because I think you’re on to something important there. I would probably even put myself in the category of being someone who strongly believes in individualism, and obviously there’s a good aspect to it of taking personal responsibility for things, but I suppose by hyper individualism, it’s when you do detach yourself from institutions around you, you don’t belong to a church or participate in a church or any community groups. You kind of live this isolated life with yourself, your family. And certainly, the COVID pandemic had to accelerate that problem in our society for people of all ages being isolated. Is hyper individualism something that you can avoid an affluent society? Is it a byproduct of affluence that can be overcome?

Tim Carney [00:24:15] I think t’s an easy thing to fall into. It’s a comfortable thing in the current society. In a way, you might starve to death. I mean I think the Little House on the Prairie books are kind of a story of how that idea of the rugged individualist really is part of the American dream, but it’s all ultimately untenable that you do need community. Like they finally end up in a community and that’s when they thrive. And in today’s modern world, it’s easier to sort of try to go on your own. You mentioned family there. One of the arguments I make for explicitly for the conservative reader in Alienated America is: “the nuclear family is the single most important thing you’re going to belong to, but it’s inadequate. It cannot survive on its own.” So, it takes strong families to have strong communities. Absolutely. But it also takes strong communities to support strong families, to find somebody to marry, to model marriage and parenthood, and somebody to babysit your kids when they’re newborn, so you can have a date, to have buddies around that you can talk to, for women to have other adults around. When my wife was staying at home, her whole day was spent with some rational human being. She needed neighbors and friends and that sort of thing. And so that idea that either the nuclear family or the individual can stand on its own, as you were saying, it’s rooted in a good concept of self-reliance, of resistance to a collectivism, but at the same time, I think the lesson a lot of conservatives and I refer to the 2012 election there when Barack Obama said: “you didn’t build that” as a way to argue for more tax hikes, the conservative response was: “I did build that.” But that’s also just not true. I built a dining room table and benches for my kids because we have a lot of kids, we have six kids and we had a small dining room, so the table had to be just the right size. So, I built it. But on the other hand, if you read Adam Smith, you know, I didn’t really build it. I did not build the screws. I did not build the screwdrivers. I didn’t plane the wood. I brought the wood to a planning shop that had the that $10,000 tools that did it. I assembled it. I came up with the idea. I’m proud of that table, but it took commerce, it took community, it took capitalism, it took friendship. It was a brother-in-law who first gave me the wood to make that table happen. So, that our reliance on others is part of the natural human condition. That’s one of the arguments I try to make for the conservative reader, who rightly values individualism but may forget how the individual fits into society.

Roger Ream [00:27:14] Yeah. We often look at free enterprise, at capitalism as being a system of competition and importance of competition, but it’s really about cooperation. You’ve described it there with the dining room table. There were hundreds of thousands of people cooperating that enabled you to have a dining room, table and benches.

Tim Carney [00:27:34] It’s one of the libertarian tests. There’s no one person who did that. The iPhone is a great example of this, which is what gives the iPhone value. It’s not just Apple. It’s AT&T. It’s Gmail made by Google and it’s Twitter. Although the value of Twitter is both positive and negative of my own soul. But like, having the phone is because of Twitter, email and other app. None of the Apple apps are good. So, Apple relies on these other competitors, these other companies, to make what economists call complementary goods. So, just those words commerce complimentary, the Latin prefix of com means coming together. And again, that’s something that everybody understands when they think about it, but it’s easy to forget about. It’s easy to think that a human or a nuclear family can be self-sufficient on their own.

Roger Ream [00:28:32] Do you see any connections between the themes of Alienated America and the themes of your earlier books about, you know, big government and big business getting in bed together? Is there some connection there? I think I’m seeing it in what you’re saying today.

Tim Carney [00:28:51] So, part of it is that the pursuit of profit in and of itself is not a good thing. And so again, I come at it from a Christian Catholic perspective, but I see markets to an end. The reason I believe in the free market is not because chasing after profit is a good life. It often can be a bad destructive thing, especially if you’re going to do it by trying to rig the game in your favor, which is what a lot of big business does here in Washington. But the markets are good because they make us as prosperous as possible. A free market can reward virtue, reward hard work, reward developing the reputation for honesty, all these things that come from a market in certain contexts. It highlights again that markets are a human tool that can be used for good if they’re set up right. With more freedom, with property rights, with rules of the road, but can also really be destructive. And so that’s one of the common themes. And another one, though, is a way in which it seems like, and I say this at the end of Alienated America, some conservatives think that, oh, well, the rich liberal elites, they’re you know, they’re decadent. Yeah. You go to one of these places that votes 85% for Joe Biden, and what do you find? You find their people who finished school, got a job, got married and have kids. The liberal elites are living the life that we conservatives are preaching. And so, it’s like this secret. But also, as Charles Murray argues in coming apart, the elites are clustering in a way that’s leaving the middle class behind. So, it’s like a rigged economy where the people with connections to power are able to do well and get ahead, but the people who are left out of it are going to suffer. And I argue that that’s the same thing that’s happening culturally, that the middle class and working class have less civil society, less marriage, and the elites are up there saying: “oh, you don’t need any of that. We’re going to give you some government help and then you’ll be fine.” So, that’s another parallel is that there is. Richard Reeves at Brookings wrote a book that kind of tie both these themes together, called it “Dream Hoarders.” One of the arguments I make is a lot of the elites in America are hoarding the American dream, either the big businesses by lobbying for regulations that protect them from competition or the families that are setting up a culture where if you live in Chevy Chase, Maryland, you’re likely to have a good little league, etc. But if you live in Middle America, you’re more likely to have a society with less civil society.

Roger Ream [00:31:49] Have you looked at the literature? I know there’s some out there about how a free-market economy works to promote virtuous behavior and inculcates the right values in a society. I’ve just ordered a book along those lines, but I don’t if that’s been part of your work.

Tim Carney [00:32:08] Oh, yes. Some of my research here at AEI has looked into that, and one of the most interesting things, it’s slightly different than what you’re describing, but it was does rising inequality hurt the economy as a whole? And the answer was sometimes. And what they found is: if the rich are getting richer in a free market, the economy is growing, and then in the long run, the working class follows: when the rich are getting richer in an economy where the rich people all have political connections, so this isn’t like we’re not talking Warren Buffett or G.E. here, we’re talking Russian oligarchs, in those places the rich getting richer impoverishes the country. So, when does the rich getting richer, make the country poorer? It’s when your wealth is dependent on political connections. When does it make the country richer? It’s when your wealth depends on selling something that people want.

Roger Ream [00:33:06] So rather than diving a fixed pie, you’re creating wealth.

Tim Carney [00:33:10] Exactly.

Tim Carney [00:33:14] But also, I did argue in Obamanomics and The Big Ripoff and I’d love to see more empirical research on this that a free market really is about: does foster virtues and a government in control market fosters vices.

Roger Ream [00:33:31] I think that’s important research, and some has been done, but more needs to be done. Well, I think you have a book in the works. Are you willing to tell us, give us a little preview of what you’re working on next?

Tim Carney [00:33:42] So this is about why raising kids seems so much harder today, why millennials kind of don’t want to do it, and ultimately why we have collapsing birthrates in the U.S.? I argue that the cost, the economic explanation really does fall short because the drop in marriage and in family formation is across the income spectrum. And it’s a lot greater in wealthy countries and it is in poorer countries. And so, it’s ultimately something cultural. And we were hinting at some of it before. Do you think that somebody else’s kids are just their problem, or would you help somebody else’s kid if they were hurt at a playground or a pregnant mom carrying groceries? Yeah, you would help them out. How much is our culture, pro-family, pro kid now? I argue it’s a lot less so than it was a generation ago, and then it should be for a variety of reasons, some of the expectations that we ought to helicopter. I used to walk home from school every day and my parents might or might not be home. That was very normal for Generation X. My parents came to my baseball games, if that’s what they wanted to do on a Friday night, was come to a baseball game. It wasn’t expected you were going to drive your kid everywhere; you were going to be there. And the sports weren’t expected to be like travel team on the path, it would be one scholarship. We played baseball because that was the best thing to do on a spring night, was to play the baseball game.

Roger Ream [00:35:14] Now you have me imagining parents calling Child Protective Services because the Carnies weren’t at their kids sporting events.

Tim Carney [00:35:22] I mean, honestly, sometimes my wife thinks I’m too free-range parent, it’s not because she’s afraid of kidnapers, it’s because she’s afraid of somebody else calling Child Protective Services, but I try to build from those more day-to-day things of travel, sports or helicopter parenting up to a deeper societal, cultural, almost spiritual question of do. What do we think is sort of the human purpose, the human condition? Are we good or are we just, you know, 52 tons of carbon dioxide, inherently racist and hateful? We are the virus, etc. And I think that that’s a real problem. Afflicting people are terrified of having kids because they think it’s up to them to make sure their kids are good. And that means get into Harvard or Dean’s scholarship. And I don’t think that’s been the mindset throughout most of American history. I think we think children are good, we must love them, take care of them, try to raise them, and they have value regardless of their worldly accomplishments.

Roger Ream [00:36:32] When do you anticipate that book will be published?

Tim Carney [00:36:35] So, this should come out in January 2024. So, the publishing wheels move slowly.

Roger Ream [00:36:41] Well, I look forward to reading it when it is published. I wanted to ask you, just as we’re getting short on time, a little bit about your work at The Washington Examiner. That publication has great commentary. I read several the contributors to the commentary there, and you’ve been there for some time now. Tell the listeners a little bit about the Examiner and your work there, because it’s I know it’s changed a bit recently.

Tim Carney [00:37:10] So, we were a daily newspaper when I started, and my job was on Wednesdays. I put out the K Street Page. K Street is a proverbial lobbying quarter here in D.C, and since then I’ve become, I guess now I’m a senior columnist. I do have gray in my beard, I think that’s why I got that title and the ad become a print magazine, but mostly we’re a website, so I’m writing stuff every day, and sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’s political. Sometimes I’m out there in Iowa and New Hampshire. Byron York is one of our great writers who long before I did, he had his finger on the pulse and he saw how Trump was going to appeal to the Republican electorate. And we’ve got a great news page, we’ve got energy writers. We’ve got every beat there is taxes, health care, etc. And on the Opinion Page, it was interesting. The Trump years provided a real challenge for a lot of conservatives or some conservatives who didn’t want Trump to be the nominee, sort of went off and kind of stopped being conservatives. Others who previously had been pro-free trade, etc., went ahead and kind of gave up their principles and just did whatever Trump said. And so, we had to find a navigate. It wasn’t easy to just say: “well, we know what we believe and we’re going to keep believing.” We had to think: “what did Trump’s election teach us?” So, I was running the Opinion Page at the time as the editor: “what did Trump’s election teach us? Can we learn a lesson from this? Was there something about our country we didn’t yet understand?” So, we started taking more seriously the idea of nationalism. We started thinking in more detail about what the right immigration policy was that served the people in America first, which would include immigrants, but wouldn’t include sort of the open floodgates or the what the Chamber of Commerce wanted. And so that really was a real interesting challenge to spend those four years trying to navigate what we saw a lot of our friends crash into one shoe or the other, try to navigate those rocks of: “how do you stay a conservative, free market, independent organization while you’re being pulled, either to define yourself as anti-Trump or define yourself as pro-Trump?” So, that that was a tough and rewarding thing that I thought we did well, along with a couple other publications on the right.

Roger Ream [00:39:40] This has been great discussion. I wish we had more time, Tim. I should have mentioned in introducing you that in 2019 we selected you to receive our Ken Tomlinson Award for Outstanding Journalism. It was well earned and well-deserved because you’ve been an outstanding journalist and you probably knew Ken Tomlinson, who was also a distinguished journalist and great friend of The Fund for American Studies. We appreciate all you’re doing and will continue to do. I think the work you’re doing both on crony corporate, I hate to call it capitalism, cronyism and government, as well as the themes and Alienated America and this new book are just important work that not a lot of people are doing. I mean, you cite people like Charles Murray and Robert Putnam and some others I know in the work you do, but you’re of another generation that’s coming along to add a new angle to it, a new twist on it, a new analysis, drawing on some of their insights and doing new reporting on it. So, that’s very important. So, we appreciate that very much and appreciate the association we have with you.

Tim Carney [00:40:51] Thank you. It’s all been my pleasure. That Ken Tomlinson Award sits proudly on a shelf in my house, and I smile thinking about that and Ken’s work all the time.

Roger Ream [00:41:01] Yeah, well, thank you, Tim. Great to talk with you today. Keep up the great work.

Tim Carney [00:41:06] Thank you.

Roger Ream [00:41:07] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal studios in Washington, DC. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time, show courage in things large and small.


About the Podcast

TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.

If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.

View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.

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