Franklin D. Roosevelt’s progressive economics during the Great Depression left behind the working taxpayer and overshadowed the remarkable deeds of many Americans of that time period, according to Amity Schlaes, author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Schlaes was on hand to discuss her work on Roosevelt’s “Forgotten Man” and “New Deal” economic policies at the Heritage Foundation last week. Also, she reflected upon the forgotten men and women who embodied the true character of America’s “Greatest Generation,” helping one another through the hard times.
Franklin Roosevelt’s economic ways have long been lauded for their importance in America’s surviving the Great Depression, but Schlaes in her book instead focuses on how they actually prolonged the Depression.
Roosevelt was a lawyer prior to his term in Washington. It was this experience, Schlaes remarked, that led him to reverse Federal-State relationships and enlarge government, with more Federal aid distribution, and vastly-increased spending. Contrary to popular opinion, such legislative policies stagnated American economic recovery and actually increased national unemployment rates.
Franklin Roosevelt created “The Forgotten Man” in 1932, an economic agenda focused on the “forgotten” worker at the bottom of the economic class pyramid. It was designed especially for taxation on the middle-class workers in order to support Federal funding for the lowest classes. However, in such an undertaking where certain citizens were forced to shoulder the tax burdens for the poor, Schlaes observed that the taxpayer was now the real “forgotten man.”
Schlaes, a syndicated columnist for Bloomberg News, noted that such Federal intervention in the American economy increased dramatically under Roosevelt’s first Presidential term. The percentage of spending of the Gross Domestic Product nearly tripled from the years of 1933-36. But with this increased government intervention, the unemployment rate still reached 20% by 1935. State legislatures and businesses alike were pushed aside in the wake of Federal growth as the economy became another “forgotten man” by 1936. Certain members of FDR’s board later commented that his spending policies were inconsistent and whimsical, and though Roosevelt achieved certain levels of success during his Presidential term, his economic failures are largely overlooked today, according to Schlaes. The book tells of Roosevelt’s incompetence in economics, and recounts of the other people who suffered as a result of this. Not only was the middle-class taxpayer and the economy left to suffer from Roosevelt’s policies, but the real American heroes who used personal initiative to help one another through the Depression have been forgotten and overshadowed by FDR’s “legacy.”
Schlaes’ book uncovers the stories of those remarkable men and women. For example, Bill W., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous during the Depression, a self-help organization that, according to Schlaes, did far more to promote the well-being of Americans than the “New Deal.” Fr. Divine, a black charismatic priest, was the leader of the Harlem Cult, believing that one could change the world through real estate, his “Gospel of Plenty.” His efforts reached numbers of people during their hardships of the time. It was these men and women of character and uncanny resolve who carried the nation through World War II and out of the Depression era.
Matt Hadro is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.