Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book on Great Depression Finds Favor Among Conservatives

Did President Roosevelt’s New Deal help America crawl out of the economic morass known as the Great Depression? One book is saying “no” to this question – and conservatives are saying “yes” to this book.

According to Andie Coller and Patrick O’Connor of Politico, House Republicans are really digging Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, a historical critique of FDR’s efforts to fix the U.S. economy during the 1930s.

“Shlaes’ 2007 take on the Great Depression questions the success of the New Deal and takes issue with the value of government intervention in a major economic crisis — red meat for a party hungry for empirical evidence that the Democrats’ spending plans won’t end the current recession,” Coller and O’Connor write.

“There aren’t many books that take a negative look at the New Deal,” explained Mike Ference, a policy aid for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “Republicans are gobbling it up — and so are other lawmakers — because it tells you what they did, what worked and what didn’t.”

Earlier this year, Cantor invited Shlaes to have lunch with him and around two dozen other House Republicans in his Capitol suite. According to sources close to the whip, the main course was a large dish of scrod.

“It’s been suggested as required reading for all of us, I think,” said Erica Elliott, press secretary for Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.).

“Garrett said the book ‘is a good read’ that details, among other things, ‘how FDR engaged in vitriolic demonizing of Wall Street and Big Business to advance his agenda,’” Colller and O’Connor add.

You only need to take a brief glance at Shlaes’ book to see why it’s causing House Republicans to have such huge orgasms. According to Coller and O’Connor, Shlaes, a columnist for Bloomberg News, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former editorial board member at The Wall Street Journal, “presents a vision of the Great Depression that challenges the conventional wisdom that casts Herbert Hoover as a goat, FDR as a hero and the New Deal as the country’s salvation. It also looks at the Great Depression with particular sympathy upon the plight of those who were burdened with supporting the ‘weak members of society’ during the New Deal and endeavors to give a voice to those ‘forgotten men.’”

Naturally, the responses to The Forgotten Man have been polarized along ideological lines. In addition to House Republicans, many conservative authors and commentators have heaped praise upon Shlaes’ book. Steven F. Hayward of the National Review called it “The finest history of the Great Depression ever written.” Liberal scholars and columnists, however, have accused Shlaes of engaging in historical revisionism.

In a November 2008 article titled "Amity Shlaes Strikes Again," New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman charged the author with “misleading statistics.” In response, Shlaes fired back with an article of her own, which the Wall Street Journal ran. In her piece, titled "The Krugman Recipe for Depression," the author said that her statistics actually came from the Bureau of Labor Stastics.

I’m not sure if liberal historian and arch plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin has read The Forgotten Man, but my guess is that she hasn’t. Otherwise, Shlaes would probably be sleeping with the fishes right now.

When I was in college, I had to write a paper on the New Deal for a class on modern American history. Our professor, an avowed Marxist (Just kidding! Seriously, he was a brilliant and open-minded man!), had us young scholars (to use the term loosely) read several works on the topic from a wide range of political perspectives.

My own assessment was that FDR’s New Deal programs probably prolonged the Depression, but also brought about a number great things for the American people, including Social Security, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and much-needed child labor laws. I also concluded that the Second World War was our economic salvation, not the New Deal. I still believe this today.


  1. I don't profess to be an expert on The New Deal but I took a course in college called War&Society which had a section that focused on FDR's fight with the isolationists (mainly GOP members) and the fact that it was irrefutable that WWII was the reason for the economic revival. It also resulted in an incredible amount of international debt. Much of that debt was the result of our desire to re-build the very countries we were @ war with. The US has never grasped the concept of "To the Victors Go the Spoils". Boy, the GOP is really looking for anything that helps in their persistent pot shots at the President. I am still waiting for their alternative economic proposal-not the 12 page preamble.

    Make up your own minds. Shlaes apparently did not consider part time work to be employment. Krugman et al. does.

    The main point to this is that the Repugnants will point to this book and point to this book and point to this book - and never come up with a plan. Because this book does not give them a solution.

    And, in addition to having no solution to the economic crisis, the Repugnants have come up with exactly no solution to the energy crisis and no solution to the health care crisis. Someone will undoubtedly write books about how oil is the only solution to the energy crisis and someone else will write a book claiming that there wouldn't be a health care crisis if people would just stop getting sick. I think McCain has started on that book already. But none of those books will give the Repugnants the answers they need for the many and varied crises we face. They are still just the party of NO.

  3. And what was World War II but a massive spending program? Look at all the people the war put to work.

    Yes, it was the war that took us out of the recession, but I contend that FDR's policies would have as well. But when we were dragged into WWII, the stimulus funding went to the war.

  4. Strength of domestic economy will sustain the external challenges. A nation should maintain confidence so that economy will remain afloat.

  5. Maintaining confidence - a difficult task. Especially when you have assholes like Boss Limburger hoping you fail and giving you two months to fix what the Repugnants took 28 years to create.



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