The Depression, Revisited – “The Forgotten Man” by Amity Shlaes
Much has been made in recent years of America’s economic troubles, and how they compare to that ultimate time of economic strife – The Great Depression. Amity Shlaes, journalist and economic history expert, wrote “The Forgotten Man” in 2007 to explain her theory regarding the real reasons and factors that led to the original Depression, and to warn us of how history repeats itself.
The phrase, “The Forgotten Man” existed previously thanks to a lecture given by a Yale University professor named William Sumner, who said;
It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, 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, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, ‘but 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. — (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Critics of the book seem divided on it’s accuracy and interpretation of events, but regardless – it’s full of information and a decent read. Called “The finest history of the Great Depression ever written,” by one person and “revisionist” by another, “The Forgotten Man” is a heady book full of names, dates, and information. Whether or not you agree with the theories presented within is up to you, but it’s certainly an interesting read.
Shlaes criticizes Herbert Hoover, FDR, and the New Deal all for exacerbating a terrible situation by offering government intervention, as well as not doing enough to help. (Apparently when this book was released, it was a big hit among Republicans on Capitol Hill.)
The sheer amount of information included in this book could have made it a daunting and dry read, but Shlaes keeps things moving and the book is hyper-informative.
I learned a couple things, and I’m not sorry I read it.