The title of the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, always makes me think of one thing: the New Deal. Of course, the author of Lies…would assuredly hold a view contrary to my own concerning Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his era. The New Deal's positive social and economic impact was a consistent canard I heard throughout my schooling as the educational establishment bedecked the entire Roosevelt Administration with accolades of grandeur. In fact, I do not recall ever reading a bad word about Mr. Roosevelt before I was in my mid-twenties. That the New Deal was an economic disaster, and that its policies were nearly as laughable as those of the Soviet Union, is a truth that many college students never discover. Such a view is not the type of intellectual diversity tolerated by our institutions.
After reading three or four glorious reviews of The Forgotten Man I was convinced that I had to examine it for myself. Upon finishing it I must admit that the hype it has received is entirely legitimate. To put it bluntly, this is a sensational book. What author Amity Shlaes offers us here is a non-partisan account of the black days of the late twenties and nineteen-thirties, and one written by a narrator who is content to let the facts speak without embellishment. She does not lobby or distort, but maintains an objective approach to her material.
I was not familiar with Ms. Shlaes before picking up this text, but am incredibly impressed by her skills. This is a tale of the Great Depression as told through its actual events and in-depth portraits of the persons involved. I have no doubt that most readers will find Ms. Shlaes narrative quite convincing. It is nearly as authoritative as Jim Powell's FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression while being stylistically far superior. Clearly though, both works excel in their description of a government-perpetuated debacle which should never be regarded as a “deal.” Fraud is a better word by which to characterize the Leviathan's morphing of an economic downturn into a contraction of amazing proportions.
The folly of socialism is The Forgotten Man's unspoken theme. The misguided nature of economic collectivism is dispassionately evident in these lucid and illuminating chapters. Sadly, however, the lessons of FDR's ignoble era have not been internalized by the American people. The great majority of our politicians have only one remedy for whatever “problems” supposedly plague the citizenry…more government. The phenomenon is not unlike a Chicagoan going to see his doctor because of strep throat in January and being told that the cure for his ailment is to begin sleeping outside at night. Despite a calamitous and misbegotten record, a bigger and more bloated state is perpetually proscribed to our polity in response to whatever unnerves them.
In the thirties, the bureaucracies manipulated the gold market and systematically liquidated livestock; whereas, now they are on a quest to provide “free” health care and fixed wage levels. The means may be different but the ends will remain the same. If the polls can be believed, people yearn for even more state-financed ventures, and our self-promoting legislators will be only too happy to give it to them. After seven years of George W. Bush's Grand Old Spending party, our voters appear more receptive than ever to the idea of perpetual government expansion; an outcome which is as depressing as it is disastrous.
A stunning statistic from this book indicates that government during the Coolidge Administration only made up 2 percent of the GDP, but, just a few years later after FDR came into power, it soon became inflated to over four times that size. Heritage's Index of Economic Freedom suggests that government expenditures now comprise 36 percent of the GDP. An interesting “what if” is to contemplate what might have happened had Calvin Coolidge remained in office from 1929 to 1933. My bet is that the Great Depression would now be regarded as “a serious recession.”
The Forgotten Man showcases the way in which Roosevelt's tax increases decreased government revenues which is yet another vindication of Austrian economics. Although, no lesson has been learned from FDR's 70-year-old mistake as our politicians remain devoted to raising taxes either through the elimination of tax cuts or by attaching them to anything possible (such as cigars or the internet). This state of affairs is as appalling as it is real.
The past looks more like prologue with each passing day. Indeed, there is an excellent chance that Hillary Clinton will be our next President, and, once elected, she will wage class warfare in the same destructive manner that FDR once did. She may even resuscitate the old term of “economic royalists” on his behalf. The wealthy – and just about everyone else who fails to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit – will be hounded into submission.