I lied. I’m not actually going to type up a startling and insightful economic analysis of the New Deal because Amity Shlaes has already done a wonderful job of that in her book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.
I should warn you, this is a book that requires you to throw your brain at it, it’s not a beach read, but if you have a passing interest in the Great Depression or economics, it is worth the mental effort. Shlaes has an engrossing and captivating writing style, as well as a journalistic ability to make the cold hard economic facts of 1929-1940 fit together in a way that presents a far more comprehensive view of that time period than your high school history book probably did.
By focusing on the economics of the New Deal, rather than just on it’s social or cultural ramifications, Shlaes demonstrates how the New Deal actually hurt the economy and the average American family substantially during the Depression. At the same time, she includes enough information about the social and cultural aspects of the program to explain why it was so popular. The figures will give even the most liberal pause – in 1937 one third of Americans did not have adequate food, shelter, or clothing. One third. That year, one in five American men was unemployed. Compared to today’s statistics, which have us all in a tizzy about the dire state of the economy, these are staggering numbers. What is more, the very programs designed to bring the country out of the Depression actually prolonged it, sending more families into poverty, causing more lay-offs, making it nearly impossible to sustain family farms and businesses, and inhibiting business growth.
Shlaes did an incredible job researching this book, and her wealth of sources gave tremendous depth to her narrative. I would recommend The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression if you are into history or economics or government in any way.
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