The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes

On Roadkill's recommendation, I read The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes. Shlaes is a columnist for Bloomberg and a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations. She writes on political economy and taxes.

I found this book very interesting and an excellent example of how hindsight can be somewhere around 20/20 vision -- especially if you have a free market optometrist. From a free market perspective, Shlaes weaves an interesting story that basically says nothing FDR did help shorten or reduce the impact of the Great Depression.

As I read this history, I kept thinking of something my Old Man used to say concerning having kids -- "Kids aren't born with instruction books." As we are seeing today, no one really knows what to do to fix our ailing economy. The Big Government experts are calling for big government remedies for the cure. Throw big piles of money at the sick economy. Lets hope that works. At the same time, a lot of former free-marketeers have their gloves open and are yelling for Big Gov to pitch a pile of cash their way. Quietly sitting in the Bull Pen are the free marketeers spitting their disgust at the economic game being played and telling us to just like the economy run its course.

I found it interesting the FDR kept throwing ideas at the economic wall and seeing what would work and what would get past the legal umpires. It something didn't work or ran into a Constitutional wall, he dropped it and tried something else. Personally, I admire FDR for having the political guts to try different things. Obviously it wasn't the case in the 1930s where our leader just sat on his hands and let the economic nature take its course. It sure isn't today.

Even Hoover didn't sit on his has. He tried thinks like putting tariffs in place that caused foreign competitors to play the same game. This game led to a deterioration of the economy's health. Hoover received a lot of ink in this book and I found it interest to get past the caricature of Hoover we are so often fed.

Hoover was an impress individual. As Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, he championed government intervention and pushed for economic modernization. Coolidge called Hoover "Wonder Boy," because he was always coming up with big ideas. Hoover's story is a rags to riches story. Before entering public service, Hoover was probably one of the richest non-capitalists in the country. When he was elected President in 1928, Hoover had never been elected to any previous office.

The book also discussed Andrew Mellon and his run-ins with FDR. Mellon must be considered one of the founding neocons. He advocated cutting the income tax rate, cutting taxes on low incomes, reducing the federal estate tax and making government more efficient. Hoover too was big on making government more efficient. However, I think the two came at it from different angles. Hoover was coming more from the "scientific management" school for Fredrick Winslow Taylor and Mellon from the "keep you hands off of my pile" school of business.

Another interest book on Mellon is Mellon: A American Life by David Cannadine. It covers the Mellon family history and details the building of an American dynasty and world behind the Mellon money. Likewise, another related book about Henry Clay Frick titled Meet You In Hell by Les Standiford. Both these books give you a detail look into two of the big robber barons and how the smell of money make Pittsburgh the major driving wheel in America's industrial engine in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Another book in checked out was FDR by Jean Edward Smith. It gave a cradle to the grave overview of FDR's life and added addition insights into the touch points between Hoover, Mellon and the economic tinkering of the 1930s. As I stated earlier, it's great to be an armchair quarter reliving the what-if game that hindsight provides.

I don't pretend to be any expert on the economic perspectives of the Great Depression, but I am very interested in the big names and no names involved in that time in our nation's history.