Arthur Levitt on Amity
Recently the former SEC Chairman introduced Amity at a Manhattan Institute lunch.
Just before he died, Arthur Schlesinger wrote a little article about history. "All historians," he said, "are prisoners of their own experience."
Schlesinger had produced the definitive history of the New Deal, one still worth reading today. He was a true liberal, an open-minded man, and he knew the story of the New Deal was not completely told. ...
We're here today because Schlesinger has found his worthy opponent, his rebutter, in Amity Shlaes. Schlesinger meet Shlaes.
Amity was trained by my friend, the late Robert Bartley; she's been a columnist for seven years, first at the Financial Times, now at Bloomberg and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Some of you know her from her tax book, which was a national bestseller, or her contribution on tax philosophy‹coauthored with Bob Bartley‹to the book "Intellect Into Influence," that the Manhattan Institute published a few years ago to celebrate its 25 th anniversary.
Many books are either "right wing" or "left wing," and the politics gets in the way of the story. Amity's new book, The Forgotten Man, is different. It offers a clear-eyed account of the politics and economics surrounding the Great Depression.
In fact, Mark Helprin has said of Amity's book, quote, "were John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman to spend a century or two reconciling their positions so as to arrive at a clear view of the Great Depression, this would be it." High praise indeed.
Amity also offers us a fresh perspective on the personalities of that era‹the villains and the heroes, few of whom turn out to be as good or bad as history would have us believe.
The Forgotten Man is a historical book, but it reads like a novel...
Particularly impressive is Amity's ability to reveal how the human personality reacts to the pressures of high-level elected office. Being in office changes people, and she shows how it shaped figures like Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, and my predecessors in financial regulation.
She also depicts Father Divine, a Harlem cult leader whom I happened to interview as a schoolboy. Quite an interesting character.
And anyone interested in the hypocrisy of utilities regulation will want to follow the story of the electric company, Commonwealth and Southern, throughout the book, and its beleaguered executive, Wendell Willkie.
With the Forgotten Man, Amity has written an authoritative, original, and utterly engrossing account of the Great Depression and the New Deal.
I strongly encourage you all to read this indispensable book, and share it with people you know‹young and old‹who care about this country, its past, and its future.
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Extensive Review from Arnold Kling!
II would have thought that 1929 should have looked pretty good to people living in the depths of the Depression. But one of the many interesting lessons of Amity Shlaes' new history of the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal is that many Americans, both inside and outside the Roosevelt Administration, thought of prosperity as an aberration. Instead, they saw hard times as the new norm.
The Forgotten Man (TFM for short) is not a polemic. It is not an argument for a particular theory or economic interpretation of the Depression. Instead, the author steps back and lets the story tell itself. She has sifted through memoirs and contemporaneous accounts in order to carry the reader back into the mindset of the 1930's. She focuses on a diverse selection of protagonists from that period, including opponents of Roosevelt like Andrew Mellon and Wendell Wilkie as well as members of Roosevelt's "brain trust" like Paul Douglas and Rexford Tugwell. Note that in the context of that time, "trust" meant the same thing as cartel (as in anti-trust laws). Roosevelt was claiming that with his advisers he had cornered the market on brains. If so, then after reading TFM, my sense is that there was not much value in this particular monopoly.
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Its duration and depth made the Depression "Great," and Shlaes, a prominent conservative economics journalist, considers why a decade of government intervention ameliorated but never tamed it. With vitality uncommon for an economics history, Shlaes chronicles the projects of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt as well as these projects' effect on those who paid for them. Reminding readers that the reputedly do-nothing Hoover pulled hard on the fiscal levers (raising tariffs, increasing government spending), Shlaes nevertheless emphasizes that his enthusiasm for intervention paled against the ebullient FDR's glee in experimentation. She focuses closely on the influence of his fabled Brain Trust, her narrative shifting among Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and other prominent New Dealers. Businesses that litigated their resistance to New Deal regulations attract Shlaes' attention, as do individuals who coped with the despair of the 1930s through self-help, such as Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson. The book culminates in the rise of Wendell Willkie, and Shlaes' accent on personalities is an appealing avenue into her skeptical critique of the New Deal. Gilbert Taylor Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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"If you care about markets, the economy, politics or personal initiative, you will love this book." --Brian Wesbury, in the American Spectator (June 2007).
Available for order: