Amity Shlaes wrote bookends to the second progressive period with The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression and Great Society: A New History.  William Voegeli wrote an outstanding review of these books in The New Criterion in March of 2020 titled Not So Great.

William Voegeli quoted William Sumner in the review:

From its origins in the late nineteenth century through to the present day, progressivism has been “an alliance of experts and victims,” in the words of the political scientist Harvey Mansfield. Shlaes helped us understand this alliance by borrowing the title of her previous book from William Graham Sumner, the Yale University social scientist. In 1884, Sumner explored a persistent, troubling social dynamic:

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 AB, and C shall do for X.

Shlaes furthers her explanation of the misguided efforts:

In both her books, Shlaes makes extended, detailed arguments that whatever beneficial effects individual New Deal and Great Society programs might have had were more than negated by the macroeconomic consequences of the cumulative efforts. By the late 1930s, many of the physicians assisting “Dr. New Deal,” as fdr sometimes called himself, concluded that the stagnant economy was not the fault of their diagnosis or remedies, but of the patient having become a “mature economy” that would never again exhibit youthful vigor. “The peak of the mechanical age has been passed,” one argued in 1938; “The boom of the 1920s was its final flowering . . . the culmination of our growth and the ending of a long chapter in our history.” Naturally, progressives wanted to respond to permanent stagnation with permanent regulation, to manage the economy “deliberately and directly” to promote “the welfare of the community,” in the words of the economist Stuart Chase, who coined the term “New Deal.” Which is to say, the patient’s continued illness demanded a larger dose of the very medicine that was debilitating him.

The Great Society was predicated on the opposite conviction: America had become an “Affluent Society” (the title of John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1958 bestseller), whose irrepressible growth meant that worries about finite resources could no longer excuse tolerating remediable social problems (There was no such thing as an irremediable social problem.) Treating America’s new prosperity as permanent and inexhaustible, the Great Society proceeded to kill the goose laying the golden eggs, setting in motion what Shlaes calls an “economic tragedy.” Neither the inflation of the 1970s nor the transformation of America’s industrial heartland into its Rust Belt was inevitable, she argues. Both were direct, foreseeable consequences of short-sighted choices: demanding that monetary policy accommodate irresponsible fiscal policy, and labor and management agreeing to enrich one another by fleecing customers and shareholders ever more brazenly.

From Daniel Henninger in the WSJ,  Will the 20s Roar Again?:

The Depression and FDR transformed the Democratic Party. It adopted as an article of faith, held to this day by every Democratic presidential candidate, that any tear in the social fabric should be mended with permanent entitlements or subsidies.


The rationale for the Administrative State mutates to justify its existence.