Saturday, February 21, 2009

Who is "The Forgotten Man"?

Late last year I read through Amity Shlaes' book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. The phrase "forgotten man" was used by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a radio address given on April 7, 1932, in a time of economic crisis that many say is very much like our current economic crisis. FDR said,

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

That quote reminds me of our president's speeches during the electoral campaign, where he "made a career" of criticizing the "failed policies of the last eight years" that expect prosperity to "trickle down from the top". Rather, Obama advocates a "trickle-up" approach to economics, believing that to continue in what he calls "the failed policies of the last eight years", will result in "trickle-up pain" rather than "trickle-down prosperity". For an example of his campaign rhetoric, watch this video:

President Obama seems to fashion himself after some of our highly-esteemed past presidents: Abraham Lincoln (using his Bible in the inauguration), Franklin D. Roosevelt (see Time magazine's cover from November 24, 2008), and John F. Kennedy (see Slate magazine's article from early in campaign). Obama's (Non)Stimulus Plan (parenthetical editorial comment added for effect) shares many of the attributes of FDR's New Deal, with heavy emphasis on infrastructure spending. My father lived through the Great Depression. I'd like to pick his brain about it, but I can't because he's already in heaven. I promise I won't try to get you to eat Potato Soup, Dad. Those who lived through the Great Depression that I have polled seem to be unanimous in the belief that what brought the U.S. out of the depression was World War II, not any of FDR's policies. Shlaes' book seems to agree, and offers unemployment statistics and market values to show how FDR's policies failed:
Obama's plan indeed may help the forgotten at the bottom of the economic pile. Julio Oseguedo and Henrietta Hughes are two such people (though Ms. Hughes' request was fulfilled by the wife of Republican Representative Nicholas Thompson). The reality, though, is that it is incorrect to call the person at the bottom forgotten.

In 1883, long before FDR, William Graham Sumner of Yale University used the phrase "the forgotten man". He (correctly, I believe) identifies the middle class as the truly forgotten--that the burden for trickle-up prosperity fall upon the middle class. This quote is insightful:

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. . . .

A and B are represented by the fat cats among our president's friends. Many of them evade paying taxes. Some of them even make it into our president's cabinet. Julio and others (represented by X in Sumner's quote) are helped, but it is always at the expense of C. As a member of C, I am in favor of helping X. But the reality is that the greatest help is not always in the form of a handout. The current administration seems not to understand that, as long as they can:
1) pass stimulus and bailout bills
2) print more money
3) reach into our pockets, and pass the bill onto our children and grandchildren

I don't like it. The economy is in a crisis, which is portrayed as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Such hyperbolic rhetoric is blatantly false. FDR's New Deal did not bring the nation out of the Great Depression. Obama's New New Deal has the likelihood of taking us into the greatest economic crisis ever. Those of us who stand to suffer the most are the forgotten ones in the middle of the socio-economic pile. We are mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren, soaking them with the sins of the fathers, to the third and fourth generation. I pray to God that I'm wrong.

1 comment:

INTERIORS by Charissa LLC said...

Good post. Sean Hannity did a special tonight on Obama's broken promises. There was a nice little mix of quotes by Obama set to music. You should check it out!