The Forgotten Man

I am on vacation with the family this week in the Outer Banks, for beach reading I brought Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Given the current fiscal situation in Maryland and our one-party rulers’ proclivity for raising taxes, soaking private business, and seeking increased power, this book is particularly instructive.

Shales takes the accepted wisdom that FDR, with the New Deal, saved capitalism from itself, and turns it on its head. She looks at the era not as moral battle between the forces for good (New Dealers) and evil (those who opposed FDR), but rather a power struggle between the public sector and the private sector. We know the depression ended with the start of World War II, but the real question, was why it lasted so long. For that she correctly places blame on FDR’s slapdash meddling in the economy, with monetary policy, and his seeking of (his words) an “unimagined instrument of power.”

Shlaes takes the “Forgotten Man” as her title, not as in homage to FDR’s famous campaign speech, but to reclaim its original meaning stolen by the New Dealers. The original Forgotten Man, was defined by Yale philosophy professor William Graham Sumner. Sumner described his Forgotten Man algebraically:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X issuffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X., or the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of… He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always PAYS.

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Ladies and gentlemen, hard working, tax paying, citizens of Maryland, we are The Forgotten Man.

For a good review by George Will, see here, and National Review’s interview with Shlaes here.

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