This 2008 book (now out in trade paperback) by Amity Shlaes has been flying off of the shelves of D.C. book sellers. Allegedly, both sides of aisle are deeply interested in this book. Conservatives are giving the book high praise, e.g. “The finest history of the Great Depression ever written” – National Review.
I am guessing the contemporary interest in this book stems from the similarity in presidental events – FDR’s inheritance of a economic diaster following the stewardship of three Republican presidencies v. Obama’s inheritance of the economy from the two terms of G. W. Bush oversight [sic].
Shlaes certainly has the conservative bona fides – she served on the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal, for example. Her book takes an unmistakeable conservative re-interpretation of the New Deal.
To put it most simply, Shlaes believes that FDR declared war on business and set up New Deal entitlements, not to help the “forgotten man”, but to achieve political advantage. Shlaes even provides what she claims is the origninal definition of the “forgotten man”. According to Amity, the forgotten man is the one who pays the taxes conceived by special interest groups, and does so year after year, without complaint.
Suffice it to say that Shlaes has the conservative mantra down: “All taxes and regulations are bad, all business and free-markets are good!” In fairness, though, Shlaes points out some very curious regulatory excesses practiced by the New Deal agencies. FDR considered himself an experimenter and I think he would have admitted some of his experiments failed miserably.
I came away from the book, asking the question, “can there not be a balance of encouraging business, but also demanding business responsibility via regulation?” I believe there can be, and I think President Obama is tryng to achieve this precarious balance.