Monday, June 22, 2009

Why 'the forgotten man' matters today

The generation of the Great Depression has faded away, and so too has the political ranker of that era. Few individuals remain of that era who came to regard Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, in all of its manifestations, as the grand mechanism that pulled the nation of out the depths of economic despair.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum were those who decried FDR’s efforts as an unnecessary and dangerous expansion of the authority and reach of the federal government into and at the expensive of the private sector.

Who was right? In the hindsight of history, the easiest call to make is that they were both right and they were both wrong.

In light of what’s often being described as our worst economic disaster since The Great Depression, I decided to learn what I can of that era and, hopefully, get some sense of what to expect in terms of a recovery, especially since there seems to be similarities, not to draw too fine a comparison of the eras or causes.

The most obvious similarity, of course, is the ascendancy of a Democratic President and Congress bent on massive government intervention into the private sector. This following an unpopular Republican administration.

If you’re interested in gaining a better perspective of the role of government during an economic crisis, and you want ammunition to buttress your biases one way or the other, I suggest the book “The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression,” by Amity Shales.

It’s an excellent starting point for understanding how FDR and his New Dealers expanded the size and power of the federal government in an attempt to force the economy into recovery, a recovery, that in spite of massive and often experimental government efforts didn’t materialize until America’s entry into WWII.

So, to get back to central question, who is “the forgotten man,” listed in the book's title?

Is the common man, the wage earner or the unemployed where much of the New Deal’s efforts were and today’s economic reforms are directed?

Or is the forgotten man the business owner, whether of that era or this? The producer of goods and services? The generator of jobs and the cornerstone of America’s successful market economy?

In the end this the heart of the question, whether it was posed during the New Deal era or in regards to today’s ambitious efforts to expand government into previously unimaginable sectors of the private sector.

OK, what did I get out of Amity Shale's book, admitting that one book or point of view is merely a start?

While some of the results arising from the New Deal (the implementation of social security and many of the public works projects, in particular) can be counted as positive results of FDR and his administration's efforts, nevertheless I'm even more concerned that our U.S. economy (and our society in general) cannot sustain itself if the business owner, i.e. the employer becomes “the forgotten man” to a government bent on over-regulation and wealth redistribution. — Ron Hall

No comments: