Remembering The Forgotten Man

Having entered the interesting period of life known as “semi-retirement”, I finally am finding time to catch up on some of the unread books on the shelf. This time it was The Forgotten Man, A New History of The Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes, published in 2007. It is a substantial work at 396 pages with many more pages devoted to a “Cast of Characters”, Timeline, Bibliographic Notes, and more. For those of us who are fascinated by the events that shaped our parents’ lives and created the modern world, The Forgotten Man is indispensable. For those who accept the “standard history” of that time period, it may be disturbing: as always in dealing with human affairs, there is more to the story than at first meets the eye.

The Forgotten Man

Perhaps the best summary of the book is hinted at in the title. Every student of the period is familiar with FDR’s “Forgotten Man” speech and with the recurrent use of the term to refer to the poor and unemployed, cast as victims of capitalism and big business, victims who need to be rescued by big government.

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power . . . that put their faith once more in the Forgotten Man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

–Gov. Franklin Roosevelt of New York, radio address in Albany, April 7, 1932

The irony is that the phrase originally had a quite different meaning in the work of a Yale professor named William Graham Sumner in 1883:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X. . . . What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. . . .

 He works, he votes, generally he prays–but he always pays. . . .

That really is the crux of the matter, the changed identification of the Forgotten Man that became an excuse for dramatic expansion of the federal government and greatly increased meddling and experimentation with what had been a mostly free market, with A and B rushing to help X, ignoring C, and becoming even more rich and powerful in the process. And the help for X? The government apologists are fond of saying, “it did create jobs”, right? Well, as the author points out, “what really stands out when you step back from the 1930s picture is not how much the New Deal public works achieved. It is how little. Notwithstanding the largest peacetime appropriation in the history of the world, the New Deal recovery remained incomplete right through the 1930s.”

This very interesting book follows the lives of key individuals in America from the late twenties to the eve of World War II, with a Coda to tell what happened later to the main characters. There is also an Afterword in the paperback edition which weighs the pluses and minuses of the New Dealers’ programs, pointing out that the merits of jobs created and projects completed need to be “weighed against damage that comes when officials create projects and jobs for political reasons. . . . In fact, infrastructure spending is often just a nicer name for what we used to call pork. Given the depth of modern capital markets, the New Deal’s old argument that ‘only the government can afford this’ looks particularly weak.”

Shlaes’ book is especially pertinent to us now as we deal once again with the perennial problem of the proper role and size of government. The Forgotten Man is a well written, free-flowing delight to read which can make a significant contribution to solving that problem.

 

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Defending America

Gingrich

In 1993 Newt Gingrich produced a wonderful video course called Renewing American Civilization. My wife and I had the privilege to serve as local representatives of the course, persuading two local public TV stations to broadcast it (one of them re-broadcast it six times). We felt this was quite an accomplishment, especially in liberal Portland, Oregon. The course is still available from Amazon and well worth reviewing:

https://www.amazon.com/Renewing-American-Civilization-Newt-Gingrich/dp/155927462X

Now Professor Gingrich has created a new online course, Defending America. I have not worked through the course yet, but it promises to be a thoughtful, timely, and useful update on the state of our beloved country, the “culture wars”, and how best to preserve all that is true, good, and beautiful in our civilization. The six lessons are titled “Poisoning The Melting Pot”, “Faith Under Attack”, “Destruction of Opportunity”, “Thought Police Run Amok”, “Defending the 2nd Amendment”, and “Draining the Swamp”. The titles alone say, “This is going to be good!” Find out more here:

https://www.defendingamericacourse.com/p/defending-america

 

Best Wishes!

Synopsis of FBI Corruption

Joseph DiGenova is one of the nation’s premier lawyers. One of his recent speeches was published in the February issue of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. This is an excellent review of the sorry state of the modern FBI leadership, not to be confused with the rank and file agents, most of whom must be pulling their hair at recent events. Well worth the read:

https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/the-politicization-of-the-fbi/

 

Education vs. Schooling

 

Years ago I published a quarterly newsletter called The Kithara. An article there pointed out the great damage done by Dewey and others when they changed education (satisfying the need of the individual for knowledge and understanding, thus creating useful and productive members of society who could think for themselves) into schooling (indoctrinating children in the current “progressive” dogma, thus creating obedient citizens who let their leaders think for them). The difference is profound.

30-Classic-Home-Library-Design-Ideas-8

An Ideal Home Library

From time immemorial, education has been the responsibility of the family and basics were taught by parents, including reading as well as principles of successful living, moral uprightness, and work.  This was supplemented with tutors and schools as opportunity and resources permitted. Reading and writing were recognized as necessary for communication and to have access to the scriptures, newspapers, and literature. An educated American in the 18th and 19th centuries was expected to be familiar with The Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, and Shakespeare. This system worked well enough that literacy rates at the time of the American Revolution are estimated at over 90%, and nearly 100% in Boston.

Education was a necessary precursor for the success of the American experiment in self-government. Recognizing this fact and the need to create good citizens, local governments instituted schools to better provide for children of families without the means to hire tutors or private schools; these were the public schools. They also functioned quite well for a long time, eventually becoming nearly universal, taking over many of the educational functions of families, and displacing private teachers. Despite the best efforts of generations of devoted public school teachers to aid and protect their pupils, politicians and ideologues recognized almost from the beginning that public schools with their naïve, captive audiences could be effective tools for indoctrination and social experimentation. In the process they necessarily devoted less and less time and resources to the actual acquiring of basic knowledge and useful skills. Alas!

1924 schoolroom

Elementary School About 1924

Chester Finn, a tireless champion of school reform for many years, recently wrote a fine article about the failure of one of those social experiments that started in the late 1980s and which even now corrupts discourse on the subject. It is well worth looking at:

https://edexcellence.net/articles/schools-are-still-peddling-the-self-esteem-hoax

 

Best Wishes!

 

 

Almost Election Eve

This election has become a bitter and desperate battle for survival of the most utterly corrupt figure ever to occupy the national stage and the so-called “elite” politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, media, and academics who support her. That includes a sizeable number of Republicans who care more about their perks and privileges than their duty and honor. You may not have wanted Trump as the leader of the charge against this cabal, but there he is, doing well and speaking right. We will hope for the best. Following is a quote from my book, The Federalist, Excerpts With Commentary, 2nd edition, first Madison, then my commentary:

 

LXXI. THE DURATION IN OFFICE OF THE EXECUTIVE

The tendency of the legislative authority to absorb every other, has been fully displayed and illustrated . . . The representatives of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights, by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often appear disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments . . .

(T)he best security for the fidelity of mankind is to make their interest coincide with their duty.

 

  1. Arrogance, the Imperial Congress, and the Imperial President

Congress has been particularly aggressive in expanding its power relative to the presidency following periods of presidential embarrassment such as after Watergate, during much of the Carter administration, and during the latter portions of the Reagan and first Bush administrations. This took on a partisan character because of long-lasting, one-party rule in the legislature. How then to explain the lack of congressional assertion of power during the remarkably expansive and repeatedly illegal actions of the Obama years? When controlled by the same party, they presumably agreed with him, but when controlled by the opposing party, why are there no concrete actions, special prosecutors, indictments, etc.? Does an unprecedentedly arrogant, Imperial President intimidate them? Or has Congress become so corrupt they simply want to stay at the trough and not “rock the boat”? Do their personal interests coincide with their duty?

 

A New Edition of THE FEDERALIST, EXCERPTS WITH COMMENTARY, to appear soon!

The Federalist, Excerpts with Commentary was published in 1994. It was kindly received with a number of good reviews by various public figures and authors, including Clarence Thomas and Pat Buchanan. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., editor of The American Spectator, referred to it as a “delectable book”.

It is now time to bring it out again in a second edition with minor revisions. The Founding Fathers gave us splendid examples and counsel about how to govern ourselves, organize our government, and evaluate our political candidates. Following is a sample, first the excerpt in italics followed by my commentary:

  (A) dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun heir career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

Demagoguery

The wisdom of this observation was verified again with the French Revolution in 1789, the same year the Constitution was adopted, as well as on many occasions since that time, most notably in the 20th century with its varied socialist regimes, many ironically named “peoples'” republics. The diligent student may profitably review in this context George Orwell’s brilliant little book, Animal Farm, noting the portentous year of publication, 1945.