“As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine…what A, B, and C shall do for X.” But what about C? There was nothing wrong with A and B helping X. What was wrong was the law, and the indenturing of C to the cause. C was the forgotten man, the man who paid, “the man who never is thought of.”
From the Forgotten Man
As I travel through this enlightening period of my life, I am shocked at how often what I learned about our past was incomplete, mischaracterized or just plain wrong. Winston Churchill wrote that “History is written by the victors” and I guess that the history that we learned about the Great Depression was written by those who had a favorable view of Franklin Roosevelt’s actions during the financial downturn.
If you learned that Roosevelt and the Democrats saved the United States during the financial trouble of early part of the last century, you might be surprised to hear an alternative view of that period. Amity Shlaes’ book turned what I had learned upside down. As I read books, I often put Post-It flags in the pages to mark interesting passages that I may want to use in my review.
This is a photograph of my copy The Forgotten Man with 38 flags. Ms. Shlaes’ book gets my award for most flags. I probably would have had a hundred flags, but I found that there was so much in the book to mark; I had to limit myself yet still ended up with nearly forty passages flagged.
How many times have you heard recently about how we are facing the worst economy since The Great Depression? If I were old enough, I would say that “I knew the Great Depression and this is no Great Depression.” At its worst, one out of every four people was unemployed (nearly 25%) and some estimates were higher since we did not have the same capability to track those numbers back then.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the current unemployment rate at 8.5% (as of April 3, 2009). This is obviously much less than 25%, but I think that this is more complex than comparing two numbers. When you look at most families today, both parents work. If I became unemployed, my wife would still have a job. Our income would decline by 50% (until I found another job), but we probably could keep our house.
During the Great Depression, most families had only one wage earner. When they lost their job, there was no income. It is disingenuous for our current politicians to compare what we are experiencing to what happened during that period.
In The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes introduces you to the political and business players of that time. It is not light reading and if you are like me, you will find yourself re-reading many passages to not just absorb the detail, but also shake your head at the actions of politicians. One remarkable thing to me was their fascination with communism, Mussolini, and Josef Stalin in particular. Many of the governmental leaders seemed disappointed when the reality of Stalin’s regime came to light.
The Forgotten Man paints a different picture of FDR. During his second inaugural address in January 1937 he said “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.” FDR identified an interest group of “one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” In this second inaugural address, FDR seemed to announce that he would make this group an “interest” group who would vote for him.
FDR was elected President an unprecedented four times. Based on this reading, the “unimagined power” that FDR spoke of was not just imagined by him, but sought by him. It is interesting to note that when he left office, the Democrats (his own party) wrote the legislation limiting the number of terms that a person could hold office.
The information in this book warrants an additional post that will be coming soon.