A few weeks ago, Mr. Johnson asked by letter to the editor about the statistics concerning unemployment in the Great Depression I cited in a column.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Johnson asked by letter to the editor about the statistics concerning unemployment in the Great Depression I cited in a column. In particular, the proposition was that unemployment was more than 20 percent when President Roosevelt first took office and was still more than 20 percent until World War II put millions back to work. That gives me an opening to recommend to you “The Forgotten Man,” my source for the information in question, a fascinating book by Amity Schlaes.
Almost everyone could be suspicious of Ms. Schlaes for one reason or another. A magna cum laude graduate of Yale in English, she now serves as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and teaches an MBA course on Depression era economic history at the NYU/Stern School of Business. Her commentary has appeared in conservative pages such as The American Spectator and the National Review as well as The New Yorker, The New Republic and National Public Radio, not exactly reactionary organizations. Since she does not wholly satisfy anyone of any political persuasion, she just might be correct.
Paul Krugman likewise questioned her source of unemployment figures by calling them misleading. She maintains she used those of the official Lebergott/Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is a little hard to argue that the government’s own statistics are faulty just because you don’t like what they say. The numbers I read currently about unemployment would give a reading anywhere between 9 and 22 percent, the latter including all of those who are underemployed or are among millions so discouraged they have quit seeking a job.
This issue aside, the book was published in early 2007, before President Obama was little more than a glimmer in the eye of Chicago, before Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulsen came up with his plans to bail out half the world, before anyone cared that Chrysler, Ford and GM had no real equity but rather mountains of unsustainable debt. As you read the heartrending accounts of the growth of the federal government as Hoover (yes, Hoover!) and Roosevelt both determined to try everything and anything to push our economic miracle back into drive, you begin to ask yourself: Do any of these current ninnies in charge know any lessons from our history?
In fact, it is not too difficult to relate proposals being bandied about for our future to those that were tried and failed in the latter half of the 1930s. Now as then, if a program was not working, it must be because it is not big enough. Let’s triple it. It reminds me of the old joke about the good ol’ boys who went down to Arkansas to get watermelons for a dollar apiece and truck them to KC, selling them for a dollar apiece. They realized they had a problem with their business model so they decided they needed a bigger truck!
It is a fascinating read and it is available from our wonderful Mid-Continent Public Library, any area bookstore or from your favorite online outlet. Oh, and by the way, we have not had a free-enterprise economy since Coolidge left office, so don’t blame that part of our system.