The previous essay glides readily into the central theme of Amity Shlaes’s book, The Forgotten Man, which I recommend as a thoroughly engrossing history of the Great Depression. The connection to the charity analogy is with the image of “the forgotten man” created by the architects of the Franklin Roosevelt election campaign and the New Deal. This adaptation was a distortion of its original concept, which had been developed fifty years before by William Graham Sumner to describe the victim in a paradigm where social reformer A cooperates with politician B to apply government resources to resolve the problems of person X. For Sumner, the forgotten man in the diagram is C, the man who must pay for such programs through taxation. Of course, he gets lost in the Roosevelt version, in which the primary beneficiary is the “forgotten” man, political constituent X. And the rest, as they say, is history–the sense of entitlement of Roosevelt’s forgotten man in the form of interest groups and various special pleaders have been subsidized by Sumner’s forgotten man ever since, right down to the Congressional earmarks of today.
Shlaes’s book is a great story about how the constant experimentation and inconsistency of policy, together with several blunders by both Hoover and Roosevelt, prolonged the depression to the point where Roosevelt was compelled to introduce a new kind of politics for the election of 1936 and, in the process, ended American federalism as we had known it and created the “pork barrel” and other interest group constituencies and their dependencies that have so dominated our policy and our politics since that time.