Friday, November 6, 2009

The "forgotten man"

From Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man:
About half a century before the [Great] Depression. . . [Yale philosopher William Graham] Sumner warned that well-intentioned social progressives often coerced unwitting average citizens into funding dubious social projects. Sumner wrote:

"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 A, B, and C shall do for X". But what about C? There was nothing wrong with A and B helping X. What was wrong was the law, the indenturing of C to the cause. C was the forgotten man, the man who paid, "the man who is never thought of."

In 1932, a member of Roosevelt's brain trust, Raymond Moley, recalled the phrase, although not its provenance. He inserted it into the candidate's first great speech. If elected, Roosevelt promised, he would act in the name of "the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." Whereas C had been Sumner's forgotten man, the New Deal made X the forgotten man -- the poor man, the old man, labor, or any other recipient of government help.

Roosevelt's work on behalf of his version of the forgotten man generated a new tradition. To justify giving to one forgotten man, the administration found, it had to make a scapegoat of another. Businessmen and businesses were the target. . . Roosevelt and his staff were becoming habitual bullies, pitting Americans against one another. The polarization made the Depression feel worse. Franklin Roosevelt's forgotten man. the constituent X, perpetually tangled with Sumner's original forgotten man, C.
Sound familiar?

Once again social progressives are turning unwitting average citizens into useful idiots. Once again an administration is indenturing C to remedy the concerns of A and B. Once again X is being held up as the forgotten man at the expense of the C, the real forgotten man who gets hit with the bill. And once again, an administration justifies this by scapegoating private businesses -- be they financial, automotive, or insurance businesses.

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