Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quick Hit: The Forgotten Man

So, I'm currently reading Amity Shlaes' work, "The Forgotten Man," which for those who are in the dark is a fresh revisit of the history of the US Great Depression era. Her telling is enjoyably very narrative. She's telling the stories of the people who figured prominently in the era as agitators or policymakers or movers/shakers/experimenters and so forth.

Her real goal, however, is to in this way tell the story of the Depression's "Forgotten Man," the part of the public which was not a direct target of all the activities of the people above, but whose lives were impacted the most because of them. These were the vast majority of people who were not given a choice about whether or how best to help their fellow men, down and out. The starlets of the Depression era would re-cast this notion of the "Forgotten Man" to instead represent those who needed help. Hardly forgotten, these people were most of what the Depression was about. It became a major turning point for the nation onto the politics of meaning.

Now for the Quick Hit: early in the book, Amity recounts that from the founding through the 1920s, the size, spending, and influence of the Federal Government was barely as large as any one of the nation's large cities, like New York or Chicago. After the Depression, the Federal Government blossomed to become the very biggest economic entity in the nation. This single era so fundamentally changed our country. No longer was a limited government working to protect the interests of the nation. The nation was now working for the interests of government.

Now the book: "The Forgotten Man" so far has been reading more like a period piece private detective novel than an the academic treatise that my present comments might paint it. It's an easy and informative read, and I'm having much fun with it. Anyone liking history and a good story ought to get a kick out of it.

Becoming schooled in Austrian economics as taught to me by the Mises Institute, I find myself taking somewhat strong exception to Amity's direct economic opinions and statements, in the rare occasions they've so far presented themselves in the book. This I find fascinating, as she's so followed by media conservatives like Hannity, Beck, and others. On this point so far I think I find her right for the wrong reasons. There will be more on that later, I'm sure.