Friday, October 24, 2008

The Forgotten Man & The Myth of the Great Depression

Chapter One

     Amity Shlaes challenges the received wisdom that the Great Depression occurred because capitalism broke, and that it ended because FDR, and government in general, came to the rescue. According to Shlaes, it was the government that made the Great Depression worse.

Chapter Two

     How much blame does Herbert Hoover deserve for the Great Depression? Shlaes says a good amount since he both misjudged the Wall Street crash and failed in his reaction to it. There also was the depression-inducing Smoot-Hawley tariff, which Hoover — an internationalist by nature — knew better than to sign into law.

Chapter Three

     Was FDR’s progressivism, as evident in the New Deal, really all that new, or was it a step along a progressive continuum that already had been established? Shlaes answers that while the impulse of progressivism was strong in America in the 1930s, FDR’s progressivism was radically more advanced. In addition, Shlaes says the FDR administration “used the excuse of the emergency of the Great Depression” to advance its progressive agenda.

Chapter Four

     Shlaes describes how the New Dealers of the 1920s and 1930s were greatly influenced by the Soviet Union and Mussolini’s Italy. She says they were deeply inspired by the ambition of the collectivists, all while believing there was something intrinsically wrong with the United States.

Chapter Five

     Will we ever be able to put the New Deal and its great social legacies behind us? Shlaes has an optimistic response. "Only a permanent Katrina," says Shlaes, or a permanent national economic disaster, "can make the New Deal vision hold forever."