In The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes, one of the nation’s most respected economic commentators, offers a striking reinterpretation of The Great Depression.
Rejecting The New Deal
Shlaes, rejecting the old emphasis on the New Deal, she turns to the neglected and moving stories of the individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation.
Some of those figures were well-known, at least in their day-Andrew Mellon, the Greenspan of the era; Sam Insull of Chicago, hounded as a scapegoat. But there were also unknowns:
The Schechters, a family of butchers in Brooklyn who dealt a stunning blow to the New Deal; Bill W., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the name of showing that small communities could help themselves; and Father Divine, a black charismatic who steered his thousands of followers through the Depression by preaching a Gospel of Plenty.
The Great Depression-False Growth And Low Morals
The standard history of the Great Depression is one we know.
The 1920s were a period of false growth and low morals. There was a certain godlessness-the Great Gatsby image-to the decade. The crash was the honest acknowledgment of the breakdown of capitalism-and the course of the Depression. A dangerous inflation caused by spectaculating margin traders brought down the nation.
There was a sense of a return to a sane, moral country with the cash. A sense that the economy of 1930 or 1931 could not revive without extensive intervention by Washington.
Hoover, it was said made matters worse through his obdurate refusal to take control, his risible commitment to what he called rugged individualism.
Roosevelt, however, made things better by taking charge. His New Deal inspired and tided the country over. In this way, the country fended off revolution of the sort bringing down Europe. Without the New Deal we would all have been lost.
The New Dealers
Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors.
She shows how both President Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal Programs.
The real question about the Depression, she argues, is not whether Roosevelt ended it with World War II. It is why the Depression lasted so long. From 1929 to 1940, federal intervention helped to make the Depression great-in part by forgetting the men and women who sought to help one another.
With 75 years of hindsight, surely we can all agree that Roosevelt’s vision was imperfect. Yes, he helped build many pillars of the modern economy-Social Security, The Securities and Exchange Commission, the modern Federal Reserve and more; but he also understood the folly of Hoover’s protection and pursued a more open trade policy. And then his public works slowly, if unevenly provided employment.
In The Forgotten Man, Shlaes offers a striking reinterpretation of The Great Depression.
Rejecting the old emphasis on The New Deal, she turns to the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation.
There are also the unknown; the Schechters, a family of butchers in Brooklyn who dealt a stunning blow to the New Deal.
Authoritative, original, and utterly engrossing, The Forgotten Man offers an entirely new-look at one of the most important periods in our history. Only when we know this history can we understand the strength of American character today.
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