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Challenging conventional history, Amity Shlaes offers a reinterpretation of the Great Depression. She shows how both Presidents 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.


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Challenging conventional history, Amity Shlaes offers a reinterpretation of the Great Depression. She shows how both Presidents 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.

30 review for The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cami

    This was a wonderful history of the Great Depression from a policy-making/political standpoint. It really illustrates that if the politicians would have stuck to free market principles the Great Depression would not have been so great. But instead, they jumped on the Soviet bandwagon and tried to implement Socialist programs. FDR relied on advisers that visited the USSR and saw the sanitized version of Communism that Stalin wanted them to see; they even visited with Stalin! It destroys the myth This was a wonderful history of the Great Depression from a policy-making/political standpoint. It really illustrates that if the politicians would have stuck to free market principles the Great Depression would not have been so great. But instead, they jumped on the Soviet bandwagon and tried to implement Socialist programs. FDR relied on advisers that visited the USSR and saw the sanitized version of Communism that Stalin wanted them to see; they even visited with Stalin! It destroys the myth that Hoover made the Great Depression worse by using capitalism. He made the Great Depression worse by implementing anti-business policies at a time when we needed business to grow more than ever. This book also crushes the myth that FDR was the savior of the country because of New Deal programs. In fact, the book begins by showing that there was a depression within the depression caused by FDR's New Deal ideas discouraging businesses/individuals to save money and by over-regulating some industries and trying to make other industries government owned. It is written like a history book, but for the most part it was easy to read. I read it at the computer with wikipedia open though because she makes references to people and events that I guess are common knowledge (?), but doesn't explain who or what they are. Overall, a book I learned a lot from and a book that confirmed my suspicions about the validity of what I learned about the Great Depression in history classes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    I encourage the reading of this book. When I was in school we all came away with a certain vision or narrative of/about the period known as "the Great Depression". It was a fairly simple view. FDR was the "hero" who led us through the depression and out the other end. Frankly I don't know what children/young people today come away with as I'm not that thrilled with what passes for education now. I doubt however it would be that different. My parents and grandparents having lived through that era I encourage the reading of this book. When I was in school we all came away with a certain vision or narrative of/about the period known as "the Great Depression". It was a fairly simple view. FDR was the "hero" who led us through the depression and out the other end. Frankly I don't know what children/young people today come away with as I'm not that thrilled with what passes for education now. I doubt however it would be that different. My parents and grandparents having lived through that era (as did my great grandparents and others I knew growing up) did not hold quite as monolithic an opinion as that...though my dad a "died in the wool" Democrat pretty much did. Being a reader from an early age I knew early on that the view I'd been taught was simplistic. I've recently come to the conclusion it was simply wrong. Interestingly a side note here from my dad. He was as noted a dyed in the wool or "Southern" Democrat. He voted the straight Democrat ticket. But at our dinner table one night I asked about the Depression. Dad observed that all the governmental programs came about because the churches dropped the ball. Now, I'm a Christian (and an assistant pastor) and unlike my dad I register Republican (though I'm often closer to Libertarian in my beliefs) BUT I tend to at least partly agree with my dad on that. Christians "on the whole"who had the means to change things during the Great Depression did no more than anyone else. Just another thought as you read this book. This book admittedly can be a bit of a chore to read through at times as it builds on facts, quotes and documented evidence. It covers pretty much the entire period of the "Great Depression" looking at policies, programs, people, plans and events giving a fairly comprehensive view of that period, the people in it and the "New Deal" polices. I don't think today we realize how nation changing the laws enacted and the actions taken during that time were. The only reason I give this book a 4 star rating instead of a 5 is that the ground it covers and the amount of information it throws makes it difficult to manage. Concentrate on it. See where it's going and where we as a nation have been. It's there. The events here will at times sound very familiar to you if you follow the political and legal landscape in America. Roosevelt was a president who was beloved by the majority of the press corps. They did by-in-large line up behind and even offer cover for him. They attacked his opponents (and sadly there were few articulate opponents to be found). If you read this and compare the actions taken (and let me say that I know the majority of those actions were taken because the majority of the people supporting them wanted to make life better for the "forgotten men") changed America fundamentally from what it was, at least in some ways. There's a quote in this book that reminded me of a quote I read elsewhere (and the author here did not point this out it was just something I remembered). There's a quote here from someone who was asked if they weren't "losing their liberty." They answered that if they were, "the liberty they were losing was the liberty to starve." Have you read William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany ? In it there's a quote from a German worker after Hitler has taken power. He was asked if "they (the German people)hadn't lost their freedom." His answer? He said, "they were no longer free to starve."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    An examination of the Great Depression by a fiscal conservative. This book has been avidly read within Republican circles, and ideas from the book are lacing GOP rhetoric on the faltering economy. That's a shame, as the book is an example of very sloppy scholarship. Shlaes's main thrust is that Franklin Roosevelt's policies served to worsen the Depression. She explains that the flurry of New Deal policies, fired by FDR's hostility to business, created a chaotic environment in which business was An examination of the Great Depression by a fiscal conservative. This book has been avidly read within Republican circles, and ideas from the book are lacing GOP rhetoric on the faltering economy. That's a shame, as the book is an example of very sloppy scholarship. Shlaes's main thrust is that Franklin Roosevelt's policies served to worsen the Depression. She explains that the flurry of New Deal policies, fired by FDR's hostility to business, created a chaotic environment in which business was afraid to grow. She minimizes the near-collapse of the banking sector, the moribund state of international trade, and the economy's crippling deflationary spiral. She also falls into the fallacy that the Depression began with the stock market crash, when in the farm and many industrial sectors, it had begun in the mid-1920s, a decline that had been hidden by a raging stock speculation bubble. (Shlaes might ignore the earlier manifestations of depression in the 1920s because it casts some of her "heroes" (specifically President Coolidge and Treasury Secretary Mellon) in a negative light.) Strangely, for a book on an economic depression, Shlaes barely includes any economic statistics. She is more interested in the governmental infighting of the period. Her account is more about ideology than anything else: business is good and should always act in its own best interest, which benefits society as a whole. She never considers that the Depression might have been the result of a supine government allowing self-destructive corporate excesses to cannibalize the economy. All in all, Shlaes's book is a mess and not worth reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    a miserable little book. from its subtitle, you might imagine it has something to do with the great depression. its not actually a history of the depression at all. instead, its an intertwined biography of a set of variably prominent public features from the 1930's. rather than reading about the lives of the millions of jobless, homeless and dispossessed you'll be treated to paeans to the unjust suffering of andrew mellon at the hands of heartless new dealers. rather than learning how new deal e a miserable little book. from its subtitle, you might imagine it has something to do with the great depression. its not actually a history of the depression at all. instead, its an intertwined biography of a set of variably prominent public features from the 1930's. rather than reading about the lives of the millions of jobless, homeless and dispossessed you'll be treated to paeans to the unjust suffering of andrew mellon at the hands of heartless new dealers. rather than learning how new deal economic policies effected actual americans, you'll find endless references to businessman who were frustrated by their failure to extend their benificence more widely by overreaching tax policy. the book is nothing more than a collection of disorganized, imprecisely argued, undersupported spasms of disdain directed at the new deal. as far as i can tell, the cast of characters the author has chosen were selected primarily on whether she was able to select unflattering (although typically insignificant) fdr anecdotes by including them. the book is written in a snide style - constantly sniping at the apparent villains of the new deal - variously demonized as being mean, self-absorbed, communist-sympathizers who were engaged in a monstrous power grab at the cost of all else. funny how they kept getting reelected. in terms of the author's primary themes, however, her greatest failure is that she doesn't remotely demonstrate that the new deal didn't work. prior to the war, fdr presided over a 50% fall in unemployment and a doubling of the dow all the while the material circumstances of the poor and middle class improved significantly. certainly, 1939 wasn't the greatest of american times, but it was a heck of a lot better than 1931. you might imagine that a book whose afterword bemoans the exaggerated successes of the new deal, would carefully describe the relevant economic changes and point to the temporal relationships between economic policy and output. you would, of course, be wrong. the author's economic analysis instead involves frequent off the cuff comments about how new deal taxes "choked" business, how roosevelt's "experimentation" caused markets to remain unstable and generally how big government kept big business down. those things may or may not be true, but you'll not glean any insight into their truth reading this book. apparently, modern conservatives have failed to learn the lesson that largely generated fdr's pre-war popularity - economic success and failure is not measured by gdp growth or the dow, instead its measured by the relative well-being of the population. while certainly, numerous new deal policies were either ineffective, counter-productive or constitutionally questionable - their immediate goals of improving lives is what counted both politically and economically. i get the feeling the real purpose of this book was to unearth some new anti-new deal talking points to hold off a grand government revival in the context of our modern reprisal of the great depression.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Deedee

    This book is marketed as "A History", when in fact, it is a pro-right-wing set of talking points. The right/conservative wing in American politics has never liked FDR or his policies. They didn't like FDR in 1932 or 1940 or 1950 or 1960 or any day of any year since the day FDR got the Democratic nomination for the presidency. The author, Amity Shales, trained as a journalist. Her job before writing this book was as a Wall Street Journal editorial writer. The book she has written is best seen as This book is marketed as "A History", when in fact, it is a pro-right-wing set of talking points. The right/conservative wing in American politics has never liked FDR or his policies. They didn't like FDR in 1932 or 1940 or 1950 or 1960 or any day of any year since the day FDR got the Democratic nomination for the presidency. The author, Amity Shales, trained as a journalist. Her job before writing this book was as a Wall Street Journal editorial writer. The book she has written is best seen as a partisan rant against FDR and all his policies. There is a place for partisan rants (see: books by Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken). I'd have a less hostile reaction to this book if it was clearly labelled as a political tract. But it is labelled and marketed as "a history", implying a dispassionate look at America in the 1930s. And it's not that. (The Hoover-FDR policies! Really? REALLY? Neither Hoover nor FDR would have described FDR's policies as the Hoover-FDR policies! Ms. Shales attempts to link FDR with Hoover is an attempt to link the popular FDR with the failed policies of the unpopular Hoover.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    ck40579

    “[W]hen wages moved ahead, profits narrowed and shareholders lost.” (Shlaes 337) Essentially if capitalism is to fulfill itself, and ‘succeed’, wages must be suppressed. Amazing what you can learn from a conservative screed that simplifies the Depression into Hoover did too little and Roosevelt went over the top. The Forgotten Man also completely forgets to talk about the forgotten man. If you want to read a ton about the minutia of who was involved with a cornucopia of public and fiscal policy, “[W]hen wages moved ahead, profits narrowed and shareholders lost.” (Shlaes 337) Essentially if capitalism is to fulfill itself, and ‘succeed’, wages must be suppressed. Amazing what you can learn from a conservative screed that simplifies the Depression into Hoover did too little and Roosevelt went over the top. The Forgotten Man also completely forgets to talk about the forgotten man. If you want to read a ton about the minutia of who was involved with a cornucopia of public and fiscal policy, then look no further. This is a name drop extravaganza within a thinly veiled prosecution of the left as being not only ineffective in making America great, but red to the core and to never be trusted. If, however you were looking for a balanced review of what occurred to the man who was supposedly the object of all the attempts to right the economy, you’d best keep lookin’…

  7. 4 out of 5

    George

    Funny political joke book! At first, I thought Stephen Colbert wrote it. Haven't finished, because I couldn't stop laughing after the first chapter! The whole gist of this book is that FDR worsened the Great Depression because he secretly admired Joe Stalin's Five Year Plans instead of kissing the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Now Wendell Wilkie, he was A STUD. Worthy as a topic for a Beavis and Butthead episode. Funny political joke book! At first, I thought Stephen Colbert wrote it. Haven't finished, because I couldn't stop laughing after the first chapter! The whole gist of this book is that FDR worsened the Great Depression because he secretly admired Joe Stalin's Five Year Plans instead of kissing the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Now Wendell Wilkie, he was A STUD. Worthy as a topic for a Beavis and Butthead episode.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    If you’re of the firm opinion that Atlas Shrugged is one of the greatest books ever written you’ll probably love this. This is a very one-sided history of the Great Depression. It’s not what I was expecting when I bought it. For one thing, I was expecting a history that would give equal time to the sufferings of the common people. This is not that. Instead, this is a history of the Great Depression from the point of view of politicians and wealthy movers and shakers as seen through the eyes of a If you’re of the firm opinion that Atlas Shrugged is one of the greatest books ever written you’ll probably love this. This is a very one-sided history of the Great Depression. It’s not what I was expecting when I bought it. For one thing, I was expecting a history that would give equal time to the sufferings of the common people. This is not that. Instead, this is a history of the Great Depression from the point of view of politicians and wealthy movers and shakers as seen through the eyes of a staunch fiscal conservative. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is portrayed as, at worst, the incarnation of evil or, at best, deeply misguided. According to this book, the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression while noble-minded businessmen and millionaires looked on with fear and dismay. Apparently, if they weren’t hit so hard with taxes, the wealthy would have reinvested all that extra cash into jumpstarting the economy, providing much-needed low-paying jobs (we can’t have those awful unions causing wages to get too high), and engaging in philanthropy for the betterment of mankind. You know, just like all those billionaires, who hardly have to pay any taxes, are doing today. I’m not saying she’s totally wrong about everything but she is definitely strongly biased toward the glories of unfettered capitalism. While I suspect that it’s practically impossible for a flesh-and-blood human to write a completely impartial account of anything, the author doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. I’ve given her an extra star because I think her beliefs are sincerely held. The cover is deceptive as it’s filled with a crowd of what appears to be ordinary working people. It should have contained a group of politicians, businessmen, and bankers instead. That would have better reflected the content of this book. I don’t think the author has altered any facts; she has simply turned a spotlight on some while downplaying others. It reminds me of dodging and burning in photography. You brighten one part of the picture to draw attention to it while darkening the parts you don’t want people to notice. For instance, she completely failed to mention the fact that a group of those noble businessmen came close to attempting a military coup to stop the New Deal. Wouldn't that have been an interesting look for the "land of the free." I’m glad I managed to finish this because I paid good money for it. However, I’ve already paid my dues when it comes to political and economic history, so I resent having been tricked into putting up with more of it at this time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mick Parsons

    Whenever George Will calls any book a must read, I know exactly what to expect. As an alternative narrative to the Great Depression, it's worth the read. The "Forgotten Man" is still overlooked, however. The critiques of liberalism are noteworthy and worth pondering; but the underlying argument - which casts a pall on intellectualism (ironically using a high academic tone that does a poor job of trying to sound unbiased) and relies on the same old Randian stereotypes of poverty, the poor, and th Whenever George Will calls any book a must read, I know exactly what to expect. As an alternative narrative to the Great Depression, it's worth the read. The "Forgotten Man" is still overlooked, however. The critiques of liberalism are noteworthy and worth pondering; but the underlying argument - which casts a pall on intellectualism (ironically using a high academic tone that does a poor job of trying to sound unbiased) and relies on the same old Randian stereotypes of poverty, the poor, and the Great And Good Wealthy as better by birth and inheritance. There is no hint of the real Forgotten People -- anymore than there is in the usual narrative of the Great Depression. This narrative seeks to undo the good that was... in spite of her attempts to prove otherwise... accomplished under the New Deal, and the only cure is the same Friedman style economics that failed under Reagan and Bush I and II. Read this book. And then go find narratives of people who were there, like Studs Terkel's collection of oral histories, for example.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    This was a tremendously informative book about the Great Depression. For me, at least, it debunked a lot of the myths about the New Deal and Roosevelt's first one hundred days in office. I felt Amity Shlaes did a monumental and extremely thorough job of researching the economic history of this era. Having recently read up to 1940 in David Kennedy's "Freedom from Fear," I had begun to understand why the business community greatly disliked the Roosevelt Administration. I had always been curious ab This was a tremendously informative book about the Great Depression. For me, at least, it debunked a lot of the myths about the New Deal and Roosevelt's first one hundred days in office. I felt Amity Shlaes did a monumental and extremely thorough job of researching the economic history of this era. Having recently read up to 1940 in David Kennedy's "Freedom from Fear," I had begun to understand why the business community greatly disliked the Roosevelt Administration. I had always been curious about this, since I recall my Dad telling me how his father would never even allow Roosevelt's name to be mentioned in their household, preferring (as did many others) to simply refer to him as "that man in the White House." After reading Shlaes' account of Roosevelt's handing (or rather mis-handling) of the U.S. economy, I came away with a much greater understanding of why the business community felt the way they did about Roosevelt and his advisors. I have only two complaints about the book. The first is the lack of any footnotes and the very incomplete bibliographic references - this despite the nearly 10 years and interminable research that was performed to write this book. My second complaint is that Shlaes really never cut Roosevelt any slack at all. She did not go easy on Hoover either, but also never mentions any of the good that came from the Roosevelt years, such as the sense of security that stemmed from the Social Security Act. Even though David Kennedy's "Freedom from Fear" was willing to point out the shortcomings of Roosevelt's handling of the U.S. economy, he did it with a more balanced (and I think more fair) approach. I'd have given this book 4.5 stars if that were an option. I was sorry that this book had to end.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    William Kristol writes in a blurb on the back cover of this book " revisionist history at its best". Not true at all: this book is an ill matched, selective hodgepodge of a book very thin on real history. Hopefully in the future this book will be "forgotten". William Kristol writes in a blurb on the back cover of this book " revisionist history at its best". Not true at all: this book is an ill matched, selective hodgepodge of a book very thin on real history. Hopefully in the future this book will be "forgotten".

  12. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a critical review of actions taken during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1940, and it reflects on whether theses actions helped or hurt the prospects for economic recovery. Viewing that era from today’s perspective can provide plenty of things to criticize. However, we today are the beneficiaries of many of the actions taken then. Shalaes portrays both Herbert Hoover and Roosevelt (and most other politicians of the time) as not understanding economics and taking actions are This book provides a critical review of actions taken during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1940, and it reflects on whether theses actions helped or hurt the prospects for economic recovery. Viewing that era from today’s perspective can provide plenty of things to criticize. However, we today are the beneficiaries of many of the actions taken then. Shalaes portrays both Herbert Hoover and Roosevelt (and most other politicians of the time) as not understanding economics and taking actions are resulted in making conditions worse. Hoover signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff bill and raised taxes to balance the budget. Roosevelt vacillated between public works spending, anti-big-business rhetoric and raising taxes to balance the budget; all the which demonstrated a total “lack of faith in the marketplace.” “From 1929 to 1940, from Hoover to Roosevelt, government intervention helped to make the Depression Great.” Obviously, the New Deal public works programs provided employment and infused money into a collapsing and deflationary economy. Also, many important foundations of our modern economy began during Roosevelt’s administration: Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the modern Federal Reserve and more. Roosevelt also pursued a more open trade policy and undid most of the protectionism begun under Hoover. However, Shlaes indicates that the aggressive expansion of government run enterprises (e.g. T.V.A.) provided uncertainty and fear from government competition in the minds of business investors. This together with monetary policies that limited money supply crippled possible economic growth from the private sector and caused a recession within the depression from 1937 to 1940. Furthermore, the heavy hand of government bureaucrats began to tarnish the reputation of the New Deal programs. One of the most absurd (from today’s perspective) cases highlighted by this book was the Schechters “sick chicken” case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Schechters were kosher chicken merchants in New York City who had been found guilty of discounting the cost of their chickens which was a violation of federal rules that were intended to prevent deflation. The Supreme Court found for the Schechters and basically determined that the National Recovery Administration was unconstitutional. Other victims of Roosevelt’s centralization campaign included some wealthy individuals, many of whom were hounded by prosecutors for tax avoidance. Also, privately owned electrical utilities were subjected to alleged unfair competition from subsidized public utilities. Shalaes provides a sympathetic description of Wendell Willkie who was the 1940 Republican presidential nominee. I got the impression that Shalaes would have voted for him. Willkie promised to scale back the New Deal and allow the free market to fill the void. As it turned out, big government deficit spending for World War II is what ended the Great Depression. The term “forgotten man” in the book's title is given multiple meanings through the course of this book. Roosevelt referred to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” But the phrase had a very different origin. In the late 19th century, the philosopher William Graham Sumner had used it to describe the average citizen “coerced,” as Shlaes writes, “into funding dubious social projects.” It occurred to me that the term “forgotten man” could also refer the the fact that this book also highlights the work of many different individuals who have been forgotten in people’s memories. One example is Bill Wilson who founded Alcoholics Anonymous and “taught Americans that the solution to their troubles lay not with a federal program but within a new sort of entity — the self-help community,” as Shlaes puts it. The book also features several of the early New Deal leaders who were self styled progressives who had expressed admiration for Communist rhetoric back in the 1920s. Their admiration was toned down by the 1930s when Stalin's ruthless rule became apparent. I am bothered by the fact that many of today’s political conservatives have claimed that this book supports their opposition to Obama’s policies. I read this book as an illustration of how an overblown emphasis on balancing the budget and limiting money to prevent inflation can cause economic disaster. It appears that lessons of history can support contrary positions.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Readable but a little dense--it's never taken me 3 weeks to read 400 pages before. This sounds like the kind of book that would only be of interest to a history nerd, but with the current situation it's an absolutely imperative read for all voters. We're all fed one version of the Depression and the New Deal as inevitable and necessary, respectively, and that war was the only thing that shocked us out of it. Reading this book forces you to realize that the Depression didn't have to be either Gre Readable but a little dense--it's never taken me 3 weeks to read 400 pages before. This sounds like the kind of book that would only be of interest to a history nerd, but with the current situation it's an absolutely imperative read for all voters. We're all fed one version of the Depression and the New Deal as inevitable and necessary, respectively, and that war was the only thing that shocked us out of it. Reading this book forces you to realize that the Depression didn't have to be either Great or really a Depression, but the panicked populace pushed politicians (haha) into interfering, and the results landed us into a black hole of poverty that we were over a decade recovering from. The parallels between the economic conditions and the political scene between then and now are too frightening to ignore. The realization that demagogues and whiners who can't take a bit of belt tightening could push us into the same situation very, very easily is ghastly, but we can't afford to ignore the possibility. Learn from history, don't repeat it!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Albert

    Politics in the United States today are divisive. How can I as an individual help? One of my personal goals is to encourage and participate in more political discussions, primarily with those that have a different point of view, and in doing so promote a low-emotion, reasonable approach to these conversations. To that end, this was another of my attempts to look at things from a different perspective. Most of my prior knowledge and impressions about Hoover, FDR and their presidencies, has come f Politics in the United States today are divisive. How can I as an individual help? One of my personal goals is to encourage and participate in more political discussions, primarily with those that have a different point of view, and in doing so promote a low-emotion, reasonable approach to these conversations. To that end, this was another of my attempts to look at things from a different perspective. Most of my prior knowledge and impressions about Hoover, FDR and their presidencies, has come from the classroom. Independently I had not developed a strong opinion about Hoover and FDR as leaders or the success or lack thereof of their policies and programs. I thought Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man was an excellent aid in furthering my understanding of this period. It addressed all aspects of this period (approximately 1927-1939): political, cultural, economic and business. She has previously written a biography of Coolidge, which provides her with an excellent foundation for exploring and interpreting Hoover's and FDR's presidencies. I felt throughout this book that the focus stayed on the events of the period. Shlaes lays out her arguments in the Introduction; the body of the book is then the narrative history of the period. Any message or theme came naturally out of how Shlaes presented the events and not from some obvious message that she tried to drive home. I felt as a reader I was allowed to form my own conclusions. What are some of the arguments that Shlaes presents that make this a New History? It was the production demands of WWII that allowed the US to recover from the Great Depression, not the New Deal programs and policies. Many of Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s actions to help the economy actually had negative impacts and extended the length of the Depression. Both Hoover and Roosevelt placed too much emphasis on control and government planning, rather than encouraging the private sector and allowing the economy to adjust to market forces. Recovery from the Depression was negatively impacted by open confrontation between the private and public sectors in the US, unrecognized and misunderstood deflation, barriers created that discouraged international trade and frequent experimentation by government that created an environment of uncertainty that discouraged private investment. I will want to read more of this period, but I found myself in general agreement with Schlaes interpretation. One of her primary themes is that we as a country responded to an economic downturn in the wrong ways, thus delaying the recovery and prolonging the pain. She also argues that we responded to a macroeconomic problem with microeconomic solutions. The historical events are provided in the context of the cultural, political and economic changes and trends taking place in the US and overseas. I think anyone who is interested in this historical period will find this book enjoyable and beneficial. I do recommend you read the Introduction, then the body of the book, and then go back and reread the Introduction. This approach helped me to think through Ms. Shlaes arguments.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Doran Barton

    Alright, I promised before I would deliver a review of the book, The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes. You can get this book from Amazon.com. The Forgotten Man is a look at the events of the Great Depression in the United States during the 1930s from the perspective of policy. I found it to be a fascinating look into the lives and viewpoints of people who were involved in the landmark political events during this decade. The book begins in 1927. Floods in the midwest caused widespread damage through Alright, I promised before I would deliver a review of the book, The Forgotten Man by Amity Schlaes. You can get this book from Amazon.com. The Forgotten Man is a look at the events of the Great Depression in the United States during the 1930s from the perspective of policy. I found it to be a fascinating look into the lives and viewpoints of people who were involved in the landmark political events during this decade. The book begins in 1927. Floods in the midwest caused widespread damage through a burgeoning heartland. Herbert Hoover -- Commerce Secretary for U.S. president Calvin Coolidge -- went to areas affected by the flooding to be of help. Hoover's presence on the scene of natural disaster like this set a new precedent of federal government involvement in disaster response. Hoover was a paradox in the Coolidge administration and joining him in the Coolidge Cabinet was Andrew Mellon who served as Secretary of the Treasury. I'd heard of Andrew Mellon before. I think we all have. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grants funding for museums, performing arts, information technology and more. I'm sure I've heard the name a gazillion times announced as a major donor responsible for various public television programming. I think Hoover and Mellon, personify the two core attitudes about policy in the late 1920s and going into the beginning of the Great Depression. Hoover's political philosophies were exemplified by his actions. He was an engineer who seemed to delight in architecting and managing solutions to problems. As a government official, he transferred that enthusiasm onto the government and a belief the federal government should be involved in helping people with big problems. Hoover was elected president in 1928 and inaugurated in early 1929. In office for only a few months, Hoover presided over what became known as Black Tuesday in October 1929 -- the crash of the U.S. stock market many believe set off the Great Depression. Like Coolidge, Hoover was a Republican. Hoover retained Andrew Mellon as his Secretary of Treasury, but Mellon had different policy ideas than Hoover. He was clearly more conservative and, as a result, became an unpopular figure as the country plunged into the worst economy ever. Hoover was, of course, superceded by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 who then presided for an unprecedented 4 terms. While Hoover was a moderate Republican who had leanings toward building a larger federal government with increased social programs, Roosevelt was a moderate Democrat who was popular among the rich business elite of the northeast. While Hoover had smart businessmen in his camp to keep him somewhat tethered to more conservative policy, Roosevelt brought in clearly progressive and academic people to run the federal government with him. Roosevelt's cabinet used the Great Depression as an excuse to grow the government's role in people's lives. Many were fans of Joseph Stalin's rule in Russia and aspired to make the United States more like that country. This was, of course, before word got out that Stalin was slaughtering millions of people to "make things work." The Forgotten Man traces the political, business, and personal lives of dozens of remarkable players during the 1930s. Besides the presidents and their cabinet members, outspoken religion leaders like Father Divine and business leaders like Wendell Wilkie are covered in amazing depth. The book covers the contention between Roosevelt and the aging Supreme Court and Roosevelt's fuming animosity toward utility companies and the rich men that ran them, or pretty much any rich men at all. There were trials, witchhunts, and smear campaigns all orchestrated by the Roosevelt administration against men who had lost much of their wealth after The Crash, but still had more money than most people. After reading this book, I think F.D.R. did a horrible job of managing the country during his first two terms in office. This book doesn't really expose much of Roosevelt's third and fourth terms, but we know Roosevelt is revered as a hero that helped The Allies win World War II. Before that, however, he seemed to have no clue how to effectively dictate healthy domestic or foreign policy. I found out about this book after hearing about it on Glenn Beck's radio show. Glenn found this book particularly relevant today because the conditions of the financial markets today is similar to conditions prior to Black Tuesday. It is a frightening prospect to think we could see such an extreme and disasterous downturn in our economy and possibly see the country plunge into another lengthy depression. This book illustrates the best cure for a depression is not a leader that tries to bring government services to every man, woman and child, but a leader who will exercise conservative economic policy and limit federal spending. Prior to reading this book, I really didn't know much about the political struggles of the Great Depression. All I really knew about F.D.R. was related to his wartime years. I generally believed stupid financial markets, bankers, traders, etc. were largely responsible for the Great Depression. Now... not so much. Highly recommended reading for all Americans.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex MacMillan

    Going into this book, I was already sympathetic to the argument that most of the New Deal delayed recovery from the Great Depression. Amity Shlaes lays out this revisionist history in all her neocon glory. Pointing out the irrationalities and persecutions of many New Deal programs, however, does not excuse poor writing. This book didn't really have a clear thesis or theme. Shlaes uses the concept of "The Forgotten Man" to describe a hodgepodge of prominent or overlooked 1930s figures. I didn't re Going into this book, I was already sympathetic to the argument that most of the New Deal delayed recovery from the Great Depression. Amity Shlaes lays out this revisionist history in all her neocon glory. Pointing out the irrationalities and persecutions of many New Deal programs, however, does not excuse poor writing. This book didn't really have a clear thesis or theme. Shlaes uses the concept of "The Forgotten Man" to describe a hodgepodge of prominent or overlooked 1930s figures. I didn't really come to care for any of them as I read. A more talented writer would make them captivating to the reader, or focus on a consistent narrative, rather than pick and choose whatever characters they happened to find interesting. I didn't give a damn about the numerous intellectuals she periodically follows up on. There are so many characters in such a short book, and most share the same arguments in support/opposition for the New Deal, that you can't really follow or attach yourself to any of them. The book could have been so much more emotionally evocative, given the suffering of so many Americans during this period, in the hands of a more talented writer. Much of the economic analysis was rather amateurish. Typical of a regular Wall Street Journal contributor, Shlaes sees a clear relationship between the Dow jones average and the unemployment rate, where none exists. At one point she ridiculously claims that Andrew Mellon announcing donations to a National Gallery of Art caused the stock market index to rise by 30%. This could have been a 100 page book if condensed to her main argument and evidence, but is stretched out with a few hundred pages of filler that give the book greater respectability to people who use books they don't actually read as citations in their political debates. There are many better books on the Great Depression out there.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ushan

    In any high school or college course on American history, the chapter on the Great Depression goes roughly as follows. The late 1920s saw the stock market, devoid of modern regulation, inflate in a bubble. In October 1929 the bubble popped, which caused deflation. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed into law the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, disregarding the petition of 1,028 economists to veto it, which ruined the foreign trade of the United States. The unemployment rate quickly rose from aroun In any high school or college course on American history, the chapter on the Great Depression goes roughly as follows. The late 1920s saw the stock market, devoid of modern regulation, inflate in a bubble. In October 1929 the bubble popped, which caused deflation. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed into law the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, disregarding the petition of 1,028 economists to veto it, which ruined the foreign trade of the United States. The unemployment rate quickly rose from around 5% to nearly 20%; industrial production plummeted; thousands of banks failed. Convinced that Hoover could not deal with the crisis, in 1932 voters elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt President. In a "New Deal" with the nation, Roosevelt rapidly increased the size and power of the Federal Government, and created an entire alphabet soup of government agencies, at first trying to fight deflation by paying farmers not to plant crops or destroying harvested crops (ironically, while people went hungry, though at no time did Americans starve to death en masse like their Soviet contemporaries) or forcing companies not to undercut their competition. Even after this was judged unconstitutional, there were still public works agencies, which hired the unemployed by the million to plant trees, dredge lakes, build dams including the gigantic Grand Coulee Dam. The government also passed several pieces of legislation and created several institutions that ensured a larger role of the government in the lives of the Americans than ever before: the Social Security Act provided pensions for the elderly and the disabled; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insured banks against failure; the Securities and Exchange Commission worked to prevent stock market bubbles like the one that triggered the Depression. Except for the blip of the 1937-1938 recession, unemployment was steadily going down and the GDP steadily going up, until Pearl Harbor forced the first almost to zero, and the second almost to double. Shlaes's book does not dispute these basic facts. It gives them a human face. In 1934, four Brooklyn brothers who owned a kosher chicken butcher shop were arrested for violating the National Industrial Recovery Act; among other things, they were charged with competing unfairly by allowing their customers to pick the chickens they wanted slaughtered. The brothers' lawyer took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, who in 1935 ruled in their favor: Congress had no authority to allow government regulators of the poultry industry or any other industry to write law: if there is a national emergency such as an economic depression, change the Constitution, do not go around it. In 1937 Roosevelt wanted to appoint more justices to the court who would be more compliant, but faced so much public opposition that he dropped the plan. Nowadays of course there is much more government regulation of the economy that was ever dreamed of in the 1930s. At Casa Grande, Arizona there was an attempt to resettle around 50 families to a collective farm. The attempt failed. At the time of deflation, many communities in the United States issued scrip, or private banknotes. Many farmworkers and people in the service industries such as barbers worked for scrip; they would rather work for U.S. dollars, but working for scrip was better than not working at all. There was even a scrip restaurant in Salt Lake City that only functioned in daylight because the power company would not accept scrip. Shlaes quotes a radio address by FDR that promised that the New Deal would reach "the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid" who may have lost his job and his home. Instead, she says, FDR and his Congressional allies built up several constituencies which have been the mainstay of the Democratic Party ever since: unionized workers were given the Wagner Act, which increased the rights of unions; African Americans were specifically targeted in the work-relief programs (what of Social Security? Nowadays most elderly Americans vote Republican; was it also true back then?); an American who does not belong to any of these constituencies is the real forgotten man. This is the standard American conservative narrative; I was not at all surprised to read it. Did the New Deal really help FDR's forgotten man? At the beginning of each chapter Shlaes gives the unemployment rate and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for each year before and during the Depression. The DJIA was probably not as important in those pre-401(k) days as it is today, and the unemployment rate specifically does not count people employed by the work-relief programs. This is unfair; the Holland Tunnel was dug in the 1920s by the States of New Jersey and New York, and the Lincoln Tunnel in the 1930s by the New Deal's Public Works Administration; what was so different between them that the workers digging the former should be counted as employed, but not those digging the latter?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Way too many boring details in here for me to want to finish. She gets lost in all the minutiae of the time and doesn't spend enough time describing the big picture. She lists name after name and they never go anywhere or are brought up again. Perhaps I'd enjoy it more if it were shorter but at this point it's not worth suffering through the lists of names and places to try and find her main point. Perhaps I'll return to this book some day. Way too many boring details in here for me to want to finish. She gets lost in all the minutiae of the time and doesn't spend enough time describing the big picture. She lists name after name and they never go anywhere or are brought up again. Perhaps I'd enjoy it more if it were shorter but at this point it's not worth suffering through the lists of names and places to try and find her main point. Perhaps I'll return to this book some day.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elliott

    It's one of those fascinating coincidences that this book was published just prior to the crash of 2007-2008 when the very policies that would-have-could-have-no-joke-trust-us allegedly fixed the Depression imploded thereby repeating the Depression this time as farce when Alan Greenspan could be simultaneously both expert and mystified about how rapacious capitalism could be so...well... rapacious. Amity Shlaes' book accordingly can't help feel a little misguided. But, I know that opinion was su It's one of those fascinating coincidences that this book was published just prior to the crash of 2007-2008 when the very policies that would-have-could-have-no-joke-trust-us allegedly fixed the Depression imploded thereby repeating the Depression this time as farce when Alan Greenspan could be simultaneously both expert and mystified about how rapacious capitalism could be so...well... rapacious. Amity Shlaes' book accordingly can't help feel a little misguided. But, I know that opinion was surely based upon the times. Today as I review The Forgotten Man (a phrase tritely taking from Roosevelt's own speech) though I feel no different. Let's not beat around the bush: Shlaes is fast and loose with her statistics and uses them to create such a poor view of the New Deal and its legacy that it is my belief she simply worked backwards from the starting point that 'the New Deal was bad' and found what she could to support that. This involved Shlaes using statistics that counted people who did have employment through the WPA, or the CCC as 'unemployed' when they should have been listed as 'employed.' If you ACTUALLY bother to look at real statistics you'll find contrary to Shlaes' central argument that with a short break for the recession of 1936-1937 that unemployment consistently fell during the New Deal and that the New Deal was responsible for this fall in unemployment. It is true that the New Deal alone did not solve the Depression but its contribution towards ending the Depression is apparent. Furthermore the legislation enacted during the time period was completely responsible for preventing any similar crash until it was eroded in the '90s. Amity Shaeles poor reading of the New Deal is a justification for the same bad policy that created the Great Depression in the first place.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mortensen

    Following the 1929 stock market crash the Great Depression spanned much of the 1930’s decade. Author Amity Shlaes provides insight, challenging that the American economy would have rebounded much quicker if only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken a more hands off approach with less government intervention and a stronger belief in the capitalistic free market system. “The Forgotten Man”, the title of this book, is none other than the common working class hero whose income is sipho Following the 1929 stock market crash the Great Depression spanned much of the 1930’s decade. Author Amity Shlaes provides insight, challenging that the American economy would have rebounded much quicker if only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken a more hands off approach with less government intervention and a stronger belief in the capitalistic free market system. “The Forgotten Man”, the title of this book, is none other than the common working class hero whose income is siphoned off for redistribution. Under the guise of justice and fairness Roosevelt’s visionary belief was that political leaders in Washington DC knew best how solve the nation’s ills. His solution called for government growth, tinkering and intervention through well intended yet unproductive social programs and regulation to drive the private sector to recovery. Wall Street never favors uncertainty and between fluctuating tariffs, mingling with utilities, ending the gold standard, providing subsidies along with implementing the social security system there was much uncertainty and the only constant was a year after year turbulent economy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Billy

    This 2007 history, written by a nut-job libertarian, tells the story of the “forgotten man,” the businessman and workers who were “trying to get along without public relief and has been attempting the same thing since the depression that cracked down on him.” (13) These forgotten men funded government programs through sales and property taxes but struggled as their tax dollars helped to expand the government’s size and influence in the marketplace. Shlaes’ account is informed by libertarian bend This 2007 history, written by a nut-job libertarian, tells the story of the “forgotten man,” the businessman and workers who were “trying to get along without public relief and has been attempting the same thing since the depression that cracked down on him.” (13) These forgotten men funded government programs through sales and property taxes but struggled as their tax dollars helped to expand the government’s size and influence in the marketplace. Shlaes’ account is informed by libertarian bend. She argues that many of the problems of the 1930s were extended, and not assuaged, by policymakers who continually interfered with markets. Her analysis is sympathetic with that of Robert Higgs’s Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies of Political Economy, that the shifting New Deal agencies and policies created an air of uncertainty that slowed recovery. She mistakenly equates Keynesian policy with New Deal methods, a comparison made all too readily by many historians; yet the comparison is false. New Deal spending never approached the levels suggested by Keynes—it took WWII for such expenditures to occur. Because New Deal programs were primarily funded by tax revenues—the central argument to Shales’ book—deficit spending remained modest. Shales also vilifies Hoover as an busybody and bureaucratic-perfectionist that would not leave the market to correct itself. His most glaring mistake was the Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930. OU’s own Alfred Eckes, himself a self-proclaimed conservative, refutes this oversimplification. Smoot-Hawley did not increase American tariffs to their highest levels (far from it). It did increase tariffs on 1/3 of American imports but for the other 2/3s, this level remained near constant. Macroeconomic pressures, and not the tariff itself, contributed to the Great Depression. Shlaes’s arguments side with business, not government. Her arguments are persuasive at times. For example, her discussion of Wendell Wilkie’s struggle to grow his electric utility industry in the Tennessee Valley have some merit. The TVA finally bought Wilkie out and in the process provided electricity for the Tennessee Valley, thereby increasing the role of the federal government over individual states. Simultaneously, this move helped to federalize infrastructure. Arguments that Wilkie may have done the same but more efficiently may have some merit, although, of course, bureaucratization—a term often equated with inefficiency—has its roots in the corporate business structure, not big government. Finally, Shales’s economic analysis is in lock-step with a later Conservative leader, Ronald Reagan. Ironically, however, Shales fails to recognize the psychological effect FDR had on the nation, one literally cowering with economic fear. Reagan gave America a similar psychological boost some fifty years later. Noting that FDRs popularity and goodwill may have had more effects on the American populous than can be measured with hard economic data would have made this book more well rounded. To emphasize this book’s clear inclination towards conservative economics, one National Review, er, review, called The Forgotten Man “the finest history of the Great Depression ever written.” Shales’s conservative bend is best on display when taking considerable time and effort to paint a bleary picture of would-be new dealers and brain-trusters as communist sympathizers. This opinion is based on a trip to Stalinist Russia before these ivy-leaguers came into office. Shales argues with nearly every FDR sympathizer in the academy, of which there are many. Specifically, she contests David Kennedy’s arguments that FDR paved the way for the way American government would look in the near future, and that Roosevelt’s programs increased infrastructure dramatically.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This was a well-researched, thorough history of the late 1920s and 1930s, but it was book that didn't explain a lot of cause-and-effect of the policies of the Roosevelt administration and why it pertains to today's politics. She presented the facts but didn't seem to connect the dots, in other words. This was a well-researched, thorough history of the late 1920s and 1930s, but it was book that didn't explain a lot of cause-and-effect of the policies of the Roosevelt administration and why it pertains to today's politics. She presented the facts but didn't seem to connect the dots, in other words.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    Hoover and Roosevelt were alike in several regards. Both preferred to control events and people. Both underestimated the strength of the American economy. Both doubted its ability to right itself in a storm. Hoover mistrusted the stock market. Roosevelt mistrusted it more. Many people, politicians especially, love to believe that the present is a time so different that the old rules do not hold. The problem is that it is rarely true, and usually an excuse to make the old mistakes over and over. T Hoover and Roosevelt were alike in several regards. Both preferred to control events and people. Both underestimated the strength of the American economy. Both doubted its ability to right itself in a storm. Hoover mistrusted the stock market. Roosevelt mistrusted it more. Many people, politicians especially, love to believe that the present is a time so different that the old rules do not hold. The problem is that it is rarely true, and usually an excuse to make the old mistakes over and over. The first part of the book covers Hoover’s attempts to control the economy following the stock market crash, and how the economy seemed to be recovering until a new law was passed, and its unintended effects were to crash the economy again. Shlaes is certainly no fan of Hoover: And before a year would pass, Hoover had done damage that did matter on three fronts: by intervening in business, by signing into law a destructive tariff, and by assailing the stock market. Hoover’s humanitarian policy sent a signal nationwide: do not lower wages. In the end, businesses had to choose between lowering wages and shutting down. Often, they shut down. What there’s no real explanation for is why Roosevelt continued Hoover’s policies and expanded them by adding in some of Woodrow Wilson’s old policies. His NRA was an attempt to not just take over vast swaths of the economy, but to micromanage it to the point of smothering it. In other industries, the NRA rules were equally specific. NRA code determined the precise components of macaroni; it determined what tailors could and could not sew. In the poultry industry the relevant line of code had barred consumers from picking their own chickens. The argument was that they would help small business by eliminating competition. But the policies ended up having the opposite effect. A price set to suit a big firm, with its economies of scale, was low enough to drive a smaller firm out of business; a wage set high enough to meet Washington’s goals might be tolerated by a larger firm, but it killed off a smaller one. The NRA institutionalized cartels. And cartels were perceived by most citizens as one of the principal reasons the average fellow now had so much trouble. The same day that it reported Mellon’s death, the New York Times carried a story on the consequences of the undistributed profits tax. Companies that had formerly sought to retain employees through downturns now no longer had the reserves to do so. The AAA got its first serious negative publicity after Americans learned that a total of six million young pigs were killed before reaching full size over the course of September. “It just makes me sick all over,” one citizen would write, “when I think of how the government has killed millions and millions of little pigs, and how that has raised pork prices until today we poor people cannot have a piece of bacon.” It was the chickens that eventually struck down the National Recovery Administration; forcing people to take the next chicken in line turned out to be something Jews in New York City refused to be a part of, and one group of Kosher poultry grocers took their case to the Supreme Court. The main weakness of the book is the title. It isn’t clear throughout who the Forgotten Man is, or even if there is one. Every politician and potential politician used the term with a different meaning, and arguably still does today. There were certainly a lot of forgotten men in politics. Rex Tugwell? Wendell Wilkie? Or the men who got together to get themselves back on their feet together, such as Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous groups, or Father Divine and his followers who attempted to break down racial barriers? Rex Tugwell, after he left the Roosevelt administration, seemed to think that there were two classes of people in the country: one that was going to be forced to rely on Social Security, and one that wasn’t: One reporter now asked him what he thought about getting a Social Security number. After all, the Social Security program payroll taxes were beginning and the numbers were a novelty for the country. Here Tugwell did blunder: “I’m out of that class,” he replied, confused. Taussig corrected the slip—Tugwell would be a salaried employee and get a number. He would get a number and would pay into the new program like all the rest. This was also the period when the word “Liberal” was changing. Much of the book concerns Willkie’s journey from businessman to political candidate. Willkie was a long time Democrat and also one of the people wiring America for electricity. But the Roosevelt administration wanted to literally take over power generation, and fought through legislation and the courts to put the power companies out of business. This culminated in Willkie’s attempt to run for President in 1938. Revisiting that old liberalism, he could see that while Roosevelt might call himself a liberal, the inexorable New Deal emphasis on the group over the individual was not liberal in the classic sense. Liberalism had historically included liberal economics, and Roosevelt had turned away from that. The manifesto spoke to Roosevelt directly. “In the decade beginning 1930 you have told us that our day is finished, that we can grow no more, and that the future cannot be equal to the past. But we, the people, do not believe this, and we say to you: give up this vested interest that you have in depression, open your eyes to the future and help us to build a New World.” It was the most final, and strongest, rebuttal to the progressives that had yet been offered. Before a crowd estimated at 200,000, and with the weather 102 degrees in the shade, Willkie asked the public to think about what it meant to be an American liberal. Was a liberal merely a left progressive? Or was a liberal someone who believed in liberalism in the classic sense, in the primacy of the individual and his freedom? Willkie railed against Roosevelt’s “philosophy of distributed scarcity.” And he argued, speaking of both the United States and Europe, that it was “from weakness that people reach for dictators and concentrated government power… “I am a liberal because I believe that in our industrial age there is no limit to the productive capacity of any man.” Willkie did not, however, oppose all that Roosevelt had done—which makes sense, since Willkie had supported him as a Democrat. In the case of Social Security, for example, Willkie was anxious that the system be adjusted so that the money paid by workers went exclusively to fund pensioners, and not be diverted to other government projects. This is the proverbial sprawling epic. It follows the lives of many people from the beginning of the Great Depression to the beginning of World War II. As a result, there’s no sense of a deep understanding of any of them. Perhaps the most tragic is Andrew Mellon, who wanted to be forgotten, even to the point of wanting to keep his name off of the National Gallery he’d long been collecting for so as to donate to the United States. He continued stocking it and continued moving toward the donation even as federal lawyers tried to prosecute under the increasingly convoluted federal tax laws. One of the photos included in the book is from President Roosevelt, who wrote to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, “I am wholly unable to figure out the amount of the tax… as this is a problem in higher mathematics, may I ask that the Bureau let me know the amount of the balance due?” Sometimes—when he knew the targets involved, or liked them—Roosevelt suggested that Jackson soften. And always, Roosevelt took care not to harm those with special power to harm him. Learning from Jackson of a possible action against motion picture combines, Roosevelt said, “Do you really need to sue these men?” and asked that they be brought in for a talk. But other times he egged Jackson on.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    This is an excellent history of the Great Depression that has changed a lot of minds, including my own. In school, we were all taught that Hoover was a "free market/laissez faire" fundamentalist and that when the crash of 1929 happened he sat back and said the market will fix itself. We were then taught that FDR came in and rescued the United States with his New Deal programs. While this version of history is "feel good," it couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, Hoover was an intervent This is an excellent history of the Great Depression that has changed a lot of minds, including my own. In school, we were all taught that Hoover was a "free market/laissez faire" fundamentalist and that when the crash of 1929 happened he sat back and said the market will fix itself. We were then taught that FDR came in and rescued the United States with his New Deal programs. While this version of history is "feel good," it couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, Hoover was an interventionist president and when the economy went into recession in 1929, he jumped into action stating that the government must "do something." Hoover gathered business leaders and got them to agree to not hire or fire anybody and to not lower wages. What they ended up doing was pretend like the crisis just wasn't happening. While price controls were harmful, the stake through the heart of the American economy was the Smoot Hawley Tariff, the largest tariff increase in American history. The next year imports and exports dropped 61% respectively. This is when the recession turned into a depression. FDR was elected president on the basis that Hoover wasn't doing enough. FDR's cabinet members were collectivists that looked toward communist Russia as inspiration. They set out to change the United States from a country that believed in equal opportunity to one that believed in equal outcome. Some of FDR's programs could be considered good and healthy for the economy, such as unemployment insurance. The bulk of the New Deal programs however were very harmful to the United States. The National Recovery Agency, also called the NRA, was a central planning board that planned the economy from the top down. This was similar to how things were being done in communist countries. Instead of having the market set prices, bureaucrats decide how much pork should be produced in the next year and what the prices would be. At one point, the Roosevelt administration wanted the price of pork to be higher so they forced farmers to slaughter their pigs in order to raise prices, at a time when people were going hungry. For those of us who understand economics, we know that no government agency can set the prices or supply of any good because there are too many factors making it impossible to plan for the future. This is why the USSR had frequent shortages and surpluses. The market is the best way to determine the supply and demand of goods and services because the organization happens from the bottom up. Thankfully the Supreme Court decided that the NRA was unconstitutional. The take away from this book is that the New Deal programs did little to help the United States get out of the depression because it created an environment of uncertainty. When an individual or business cannot predict the government's actions, they will wait and see what will happen next. Many economists and historians are now saying that the New Deal made the depression last 7 years longer than it would have. Another thing to keep in mind is that there was a recession in 1921 under Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge could be considered a free market/laissez faire president as he was very hands off and didn't believe that the president was an imperial figure. The economy recovered in a year. What people need to understand is that there will be boom times and bust times. When its bad, there's nothing you can do but wait for the market to make corrections. Trying to social engineer an economy to make sure it never feels any pain is not only impossible but it is also immoral. In 2009 we are on the cusp of making the same mistakes that FDR/Hoover made by having the government intervene in the economy. Economists agree that the reason for our current recession is that Americans were spending more money than they had. The Federal reserve was not using good monetary policy by keeping interest rates artificially low which stimulated a housing boom. Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were getting loans to people who otherwise would be unable to afford it. In other words, government intervention is the reason for our current crisis. The solution being put forth by both Republicans under George W. Bush and Democrats under Obama is that the federal government must borrow trillions of dollars and spend to get the economy going. So to get out of a crisis caused by overspending, we need to spend more. Obviously there are holes in this logic. The only thing that is for certain is that our future generations are going to live a life under the heavy hand of government with 50+% tax rates. Nothing the government does will get us out of this slump but it is possible they can make things worse. After reading The Forgotten Man, I'm not hopeful that the people in government know what they are doing. Nobody knows how to spend your money better than you.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A fascinating, deeply flawed account of the Great Depression. I bought this on the recommendation of headbutler.com, and while I'm enjoying it, I'm finding myself astonished at its bold partisanship and resultant revisionist history. It seemed a bit odd to read the glowing praise of the 1920s not as a period of speculative excess but of great, misunderstood industrialists. The unease got worse when the future members of Roosevelt's cabinet were collectively referred to as "the intellectuals", de A fascinating, deeply flawed account of the Great Depression. I bought this on the recommendation of headbutler.com, and while I'm enjoying it, I'm finding myself astonished at its bold partisanship and resultant revisionist history. It seemed a bit odd to read the glowing praise of the 1920s not as a period of speculative excess but of great, misunderstood industrialists. The unease got worse when the future members of Roosevelt's cabinet were collectively referred to as "the intellectuals", depicted as a claque of Stalinist sympathizers. As a corrective, I'm sure that there's some virtue in Shlaes view of things - the folks who bring on a crash usually do some good things too. And I'm sure that Roosevelt and his cabinet were swayed by the dreams of communism, without the cynicism that decades of additional experience But the book is way too biased to be read alone. No one should read this book unless they also have read or plan to read John Maynard Keynes book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money or some other corrective to Shlaes' flawed history. That being said, I got a lot out of the basic outline of the history of the depression, in particular the realization that it was much slower to come to a head than most of us think, with the image of the 1929 crash imprinted on the pop psyche.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Shlaes uses William Graham Sumner's "forgotten man" to expose the problems with FDR's New Deal. To paraphrase Sumner, A sees the plight of X and says to B, "Let's pass some legislation to help X," and C gets the bill. Sumner wrote about C: "He works, he votes, generally he prays - but he always pays - yes, above all, he pays." The identity of A is the progressives and B is Congress. It is laudable that A wants to help X but tinkering with the economy at the expense of C only exacerbates the prob Shlaes uses William Graham Sumner's "forgotten man" to expose the problems with FDR's New Deal. To paraphrase Sumner, A sees the plight of X and says to B, "Let's pass some legislation to help X," and C gets the bill. Sumner wrote about C: "He works, he votes, generally he prays - but he always pays - yes, above all, he pays." The identity of A is the progressives and B is Congress. It is laudable that A wants to help X but tinkering with the economy at the expense of C only exacerbates the problem. Shlaes is not a shrill conservative on the rampage but a classic liberal. Shlaes argues that FDR's intervention in the private sphere made the Depression worse, encouraged the government to bully and harass its citizens (see the Schecter case!), and introduced special interest politics. This messianic view of government is still with us and has come home to roost with Obama. Ancient peoples established governments to stop people from taking too much land and gobbling up resources at the expense of others. Regulation is one thing, intervention is another, and the private sphere has got to be put into the hands of as many private citizens as possible, if we are going to be great again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    James

    Somewhat of a disappointment, the book is mostly about the political infighting that occurred in Washington DC. A thousand names of long forgotten bureaucrats. The title refers to the American people, but ironically the book is about the "forgotten" bureaucrats. I did learn that in 1923 the supreme court ruled that minimum wage laws were unconstitutional. They interfered with the relationship of a worker and his employer. A latter group of politicians sitting on the high court changed that. One mo Somewhat of a disappointment, the book is mostly about the political infighting that occurred in Washington DC. A thousand names of long forgotten bureaucrats. The title refers to the American people, but ironically the book is about the "forgotten" bureaucrats. I did learn that in 1923 the supreme court ruled that minimum wage laws were unconstitutional. They interfered with the relationship of a worker and his employer. A latter group of politicians sitting on the high court changed that. One more example of the political nature of the courts. Also a number of stories of mean and petty prosecution of various people people who happened to catch the attention of the new dealers. Hoover wasn't a do nothing president, he did a lot of things, most were wrong and stupid. He was even more stupid and stubborn than george jr, if you can believe that. Roosevelt kept almost all of Hoovers policies and added lots more. None worked. The depression lasted until WW2 spending pulled us out of it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Riley

    A conservative history of the Great Depression under which, miraculously, the government turns out to be blame for America's ills. Apparently, the biggest victims of the 1930s were Samuel Insull and Andrew Mellon, and its greatest hero was Wendell Willkie, whose ideas, after all, propelled him to carry an entire 10 states in the 1940 presidential election. I'm not being facetious. That's really the picture the book presents. It's not just some elaborate 400-page satire from author Amity Shlaes. A conservative history of the Great Depression under which, miraculously, the government turns out to be blame for America's ills. Apparently, the biggest victims of the 1930s were Samuel Insull and Andrew Mellon, and its greatest hero was Wendell Willkie, whose ideas, after all, propelled him to carry an entire 10 states in the 1940 presidential election. I'm not being facetious. That's really the picture the book presents. It's not just some elaborate 400-page satire from author Amity Shlaes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    12/12/17 $1.99 for Kindle.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    “The Forgotten Man” is both history and warning. It’s a great social/political history of the Depression. Rather than a recitation of economic facts, it emphasizes the personalities of relevant leaders in many fields and views the Depression through their interactions, with particular focus on the inability of the government to actually fix the Depression, despite their best (and not-so-best) efforts. The “forgotten man” of the title, in its usual historical frame, refers to Franklin Roosevelt’s “The Forgotten Man” is both history and warning. It’s a great social/political history of the Depression. Rather than a recitation of economic facts, it emphasizes the personalities of relevant leaders in many fields and views the Depression through their interactions, with particular focus on the inability of the government to actually fix the Depression, despite their best (and not-so-best) efforts. The “forgotten man” of the title, in its usual historical frame, refers to Franklin Roosevelt’s use of the term—the politically weak voters on whom Roosevelt focused to get their votes, and supposedly rescued from economic despair. Shlaes resurrects in parallel the original and alternate meaning, of the man who bears the costs of government schemes directed at others. As a readable, incisive history alone, this book is worth reading. I read this book after reading Shlaes’s similarly excellent “Coolidge”—while Shlaes mentions Coolidge in “The Forgotten Man”, she does not really contrast his times to the Depression, but reading the two together allows the reader to profitably do so. Her book is not a polemic, nor does it really take sides. (My review, on the other hand, is a polemic, but that has little to do with Shlaes.) But “The Forgotten Man” has an additional benefit to the reader not visible when the book was published in 2007. It is effectively a warning about the limits of government competence. It was not malice as such that made a decade of government efforts to end the Depression fail, but a combination of ignorance and impossibility. We have seen the same since 2008 (along with heaping helpings of malice). And, finally, Shlaes’s book is also a warning about the inborn tendency of the powerful to erode the rule of law by “never letting a crisis go to waste,” in the immortal words of Obama’s proxy, Rahm Emanuel. Shlaes organizes the book around a certain cast of characters. The main personalities, around whom Shales weaves a counterpoint through the whole book, are Wendell Willkie and Roosevelt. But also others totally forgotten today (and Willkie is essentially forgotten today too): Irita Van Doren: Rex Tugwell; Ray Moley; David Lilienthal; Andrew Mellon (unfairly tarred in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”). A few are not forgotten today, at least in some circles, in particular Felix Frankfurter, the architect of Roosevelt’s total remaking of the constitutional system, and Harold Ickes (whose son, also Harold Ickes, served Clinton in a similar saturnine, malevolent capacity). Shlaes’s book also helps under understand the Depression by making it real, by explaining the actual impact of things that to us seem unimportant or abstractions. For example, to us, ending the gold clause in contracts seems largely irrelevant—who uses gold in contracts, anyway? As Shlaes says, in fact, it devalued the assets of contract holders, and it “was a primitive revenge . . . To end the gold clause was an act of social redistribution, a $200 billion transfer of wealth from creditor to debtor.” This kind of explanation really gives a flavor for the time. Anyway, Shlaes follows these men (and a few women—Van Doren, but also Frances Perkins and others) from before the Depression, when they were mostly isolated and without influence, to their rise to various forms of power during the Depression, and their subsequent division into opponents of the New Deal or advocates and implementers of it. Shlaes traces, among other drivers, how enamored these people were, to various degrees, of Soviet Russia (to which many of them went on a 1920s junket sponsored by Stalin), though many abandoned that amour over time. But most of them were primarily enamored not of Communism, but as government as the hero of the age. The book follows their stories. Many others have focused their reviews on the economic reality of the Depression and government actions in reaction. I’m going to focus instead on the numerous parallels to today that occur throughout the book. One such parallel is that Roosevelt and his henchmen were entirely unpredictable in their policy decisions, which had pernicious effects. “The trouble, however, was not merely the new policies that were implemented but also the threat of additional, unknown, policies.” Some of this was because they were desperate to try anything that might work to stimulate the economy, and also desperate to try anything to show they were doing something for the “forgotten man.” But many policy choices were cavalier, such as Roosevelt randomly setting gold prices, essentially by picking numbers daily from the air. (Gold prices then determined the money supply, so it was a critical number). Similarly, much of our anemic economy today is the result of uncertainty over what oppressive policy or dictate will issue forth next from our government masters. A second parallel is the obsession of those in power with taking over large segments of the economy, on the theory that it’s necessary for better government, and for more power for the government, which is benevolent. In Roosevelt’s case, that was primarily the power industry (coal and hydroelectric), through the prism of Willkie, David Lilienthal and the Tennessee Valley Authority. In the modern case, it’s Obama mandating the government takeover of health care. A third parallel is the jobless “recovery” that occurred midway through the Depression. Roosevelt and his supporters made much of the (temporary) stock market increase in the mid-1930s, and the modest reduction in unemployment. But the creation of real, permanent jobs through private enterprise never happened until World War II and after. As of this writing (September 2105), we see the same thing—a chimerical decline in the unemployment rate, created by huge numbers of people permanently leaving the workforce, with fewer total jobs for native-born individuals than there were in 2008. Time will tell if things will get better or worse, but given today’s pernicious policies that attack private enterprise, similar to those of the 1930s, optimism isn’t warranted. (In some ways it’s worse today, because of the rise of crony capitalism, which was vastly less common in the 1930s, coordinating with government regulation and overreach to depress actual free enterprise.) A fourth parallel is the vast amounts of paperwork imposed on the citizenry. “In twelve months, the [National Recovery Administration] had generated more paper [in the form of laws] than the entire legislative output of the federal government since 1789.” To be more precise, prior to Roosevelt there was a grand TOTAL of 2,735 pages of federal law. In Roosevelt’s first year, an additional 10,000 were created, and he was just getting started. Now, of course, it’s several hundred thousand new pages per year. The impact of this as a drag on American creativity and ingenuity can’t be overstated. A fifth parallel is the use by the government of its power to split the country into favored and unfavored interest groups. This is, of course, the entire operating method of the modern Democratic Party, but Roosevelt was the first to do this. All prior Presidents would have thought it a gross dereliction of duty to steal from one set of citizens to engage in mass transfers to another set of citizens, with the goal of deliberately and permanently ignoring the needs and wants of the first set and obtaining the votes of the second set. Not Roosevelt, not most modern politicians, and most certainly not Obama. A sixth parallel is that government men, trampling upon the ancient liberties of Americans, together with their private sector allies like Frankfurter, saw themselves not as partisans pushing a political agenda, but as Parsifal questing after the Holy Grail. They all had this bizarre view of government employees, particularly attorneys, as virtuous men fighting evil private enterprise and private evil (which they saw as mostly the same thing). Before Roosevelt, government employees were relatively few, and recognized for what they were—patronage employees no better and in most cases worse than any private sector employee. Even though this idea of government (or non-government, but allied, “non-profit”) employee moral superiority is so obviously false, it still is treated as a truism throughout the entire Left. A seventh parallel is the wholly illegitimate use by the powerful of the machinery of government, criminal and civil, to attack and persecute any who oppose them, combined with the general politicization of the justice system. For Roosevelt, this was primarily (but not exclusively), bogus investigations and prosecutions for “tax fraud,” such as perfectly legal tax avoidance and of behavior indisputably legal when undertaken. The most prominent victim was Andrew Mellon, but many others were similarly attacked. As Henry Morgenthau said, the real target was not just Mellon, but “the privileged rich” (which he was too, but never mind). Similarly, today the Left attacks, through wholly illegitimate means, both politicians (Stevens, DeLay, Ray Donovan), and private citizens (Gibson Guitars, the Wisconsin investigations), and Obama’s Department of Justice under Holder is a howling wasteland of radical politics and totally politicized injustice. In fact, as with most things Roosevelt began, the attacks are worse today—because of the ludicrous lengths of threatened sentences and consequent ability to force plea bargains, along with the elimination of the mens rea requirement for many or most crimes, and the criminalization of innocent actions through incomprehensible and obscure regulations. An eighth parallel is the unhealthy rhetorical and philosophical overreach characterizing those in power. In his 1937 inauguration, despite no real progress and 20% unemployment, Roosevelt claimed “We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.” Similarly, Obama has repeatedly made such claims, as with Obama’s 2008 speech, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation.” It’s true that all politicians exaggerate and lie. But it seems pretty clear that both Roosevelt and Obama believed and believe that they were different, special and unique, and the cost of their utopian delusions has been untold suffering in America and around the world (ISIS, anyone?) The saddest thing of all in these parallels, true as they are, is the difference in the men between then and now. With a few exceptions (the Communists, of whom there were not a few), Roosevelt’s Brain Trust and other factotums actually loved and thought highly of America. They wanted to make it better for everyone. These men wanted progress. They wanted the poor to have power and appliances and lead more luxurious lives. Today, the Left wants the masses to live circumscribed, heavily taxed lives while their betters course around the world on (taxpayer-funded) private jets (while mewling about global warming). Today, Obama and his coterie, along with the Left in general, hate and despite America as a monstrous example to the world, based on and generative of racism, colonialism, and every other evil, and useful mostly as a punching bag to be abused and debased before all comers (while they, of course, retain power and riches for themselves and their friends). This is the source of Obama’s habit of literally bowing low to execrable Saudi sheikhs and other similar vile individuals; sucking up to effete and boneless Europeans; and groveling before any culture not English in origin, the more nasty the better. Roosevelt and his men, to their credit, would have been disgusted by this core quality of Obama and his minions. Not to mention that Roosevelt’s men had more excuse for their behavior than the modern Left. In 1930s America, it was plausible that government was neutral or benevolent, and could scientifically approach and attack problems facing society. Public choice theory, recognizing that government employees are merely another player in making choices, with their own frequently pernicious incentives and goals, lay decades in the future. Hayek lay years in the future. And the miserable failure of a hundred years of a hundred different experiments in government control and centralization was yet to be seen. So Roosevelt and his people can be forgiven for actually believing that more government was the answer; and they could legitimately have believed that “government is just the term for things we do together” (which in the mouth of Obama is just a perverse joke). In case you’re still reading this, and haven’t shot yourself in despair or quit reading to instead pray and light a candle at the Obama shrine in your closet, I actually, paradoxically, think all this is reason for some limited optimism today. We see that Roosevelt was a malicious man who abused power and attacked the rule of law much more than any other modern President prior to Obama, Nixon included. We see the same behavior today by Obama and his allies in the federal bureaucracy—illegal activities designed to punish their political opponents in literally hundreds of different areas, a complete subordination of the government to their lust for political power and permanent domination. So why do I say this is reason for optimism? We are rightly horrified by Roosevelt’s behavior, just as any non-partisan is horrified by Obama’s—because we think of that as Not What Government Is Supposed To Do. But the only reason we think that is because after Roosevelt, for decades, that’s not what the government did. Between 1945 and 1995, while the government expanded, it was again subject to the rule of law that Roosevelt eroded. That means that even after the federal government plumbs the depths, it is at least theoretically possible for it to return to the rule of law. Yes, government is never going to shrink unless something very dramatic happens. But a simple return to the rule of law would be a huge win for America, and the return to the rule of law after Roosevelt’s lawlessness shows it can happen. Optimism shouldn’t be over-stated, though. The problem, of course, is the ratchet effect. Each time it happens, we never return wholly to the firm structures of the past, and it becomes easier to create problems in the future. Obama and his allies are trying to achieve, and have achieved, a permanent expansion of government, and have massively eroded the rule of law. Let’s say a Republican is elected in 2016 and the rule of law is at least partially restored—the federal government no longer is used to punish political opposition. So Republicans might hold the line—until the next Democrat administration, whereupon the ball would be moved even farther toward whatever hellish Utopia is that administration’s goal, made easier by even less lip service being paid to the rule of law. Republicans can’t (and won’t) reverse the structural erosion of the rule of law merely by not engaging in the same vicious behavior as the Left. The only way this endless downward trend can be stopped is if the American Right become as vicious and unprincipled as the modern American Left. The Right could jail not just Hillary, who’s an undisputed criminal by any objective accounting, but scores or hundreds of Democrats who are not guilty of anything but opposing Republicans. Ruin tens of thousands of Democrat-supporting businessmen with malicious regulatory prosecutions, bogus civil suits, and tax investigations and prosecutions (conducted by scores of heavily armed SWAT-geared bureaucrats). Roust their women and children at gunpoint from their beds in the middle of the night. Give their assets to political supporters. Ensure that social liberals are mass fired from their jobs for their views, and the rest are re-educated to keep their mouths shut. Eliminate tenure and fire any non-conservative academic. And so on. That’ll work to end the ascendancy of the Left. But the result won’t be a good society for any of us, except in the unlikely possibility that having crushed the Left, the Right restores America to her ancient liberties and once again enthrones the rule of law. OK, I’m way off topic here. Back to the book—it’s great. Read it.

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