• You do not need to register if you are not going to pay the yearly fee to post. If you register please click here or log in go to "settings" then "my account" then "User Upgrades" and you can renew.

Another look at the Great Society

EastOfEden

Scout Team
10 Year Member
I just finished reading a book by Amity Shlaes called - Great Society: a New History. This conservative author reviews the products of the Great Society and finds that history has shown them to be wanting. She focuses on a few specific subject matters. 1. The OEO; 2 Urban renewal; disputes about which government whould handle the money; and 4. Guns v. Butter during Vietnam war.

She is a superior writer and makes her points without cliches and jargon. Some of her comments reflect other conservative writers such as Myron Magnet (the destruction of the black family by anti poverty programs) or Caro (some of the destruction caused by Robert Moses in building highways across urban centers (destroying communities along the way). but she adds her own slant on things.

This is a conservative that articulates arguments, not just bluster and wind) and that is always refreshing. the book is well worth reading.

I am next going to read her book on the Great Depression.
 

KleinTxHusker

All Legend
15 Year Member
I just finished reading a book by Amity Shlaes called - Great Society: a New History. This conservative author reviews the products of the Great Society and finds that history has shown them to be wanting. She focuses on a few specific subject matters. 1. The OEO; 2 Urban renewal; disputes about which government whould handle the money; and 4. Guns v. Butter during Vietnam war.

She is a superior writer and makes her points without cliches and jargon. Some of her comments reflect other conservative writers such as Myron Magnet (the destruction of the black family by anti poverty programs) or Caro (some of the destruction caused by Robert Moses in building highways across urban centers (destroying communities along the way). but she adds her own slant on things.

This is a conservative that articulates arguments, not just bluster and wind) and that is always refreshing. the book is well worth reading.

I am next going to read her book on the Great Depression.
I always disliked her (hardly original) thesis on the New Deal and Roosevelt making the Great Depression worse. Let us know what you think.

I never read the book (and so did not challenge my belief that that argument is wrong-my mom's family were staunch FDR people - they were the poorest family in town). I did read a brief excerpt from it regarding the banking crisis and is was a very interesting blow by blow account. Made me interested in reading her book. I remain skeptical in a lot of regards; I believe more than ever, however, in Milton Friedman's bank crisis caused money supply collapse thesis (which is now the most widely accepted argument).

I have always been interested in the Great Society, because I have always liked LBJ. I think the neo-Conservative (Milton Friedman, once again the intellectual God Father) argument regarding the structure of AFDC (they basically left qualification requirements unchanged from its New Deal origins but hugely boosted the pay out) as being one of the greatest mistakes is the most valid. Current times remind me of the (hilarious) Tom Wolfe reporting (Radical Chic & Mau Mauing the Flack Catcher) on it (the Mau Mau part of book) was that the Great Society (I think as part of OEO) funded community pressure groups to take on local governments (can see where Mayor Daley would have been furious).

Anyway, AFDC was pretty much disliked by everyone and both Nixon & McGovern had proposed replacing it with guaranteed family income (with, vastly different payouts and costs of course). But once McGovern went nuts with his proposal Nixon easily attacked it and not to many people cared he had proposed the same structure. IIRC, McGovern proposed $1,000/person per year so $4,000 for a family of four (when $10,000 was still a very fine income) while Nixon was about $1,200 or so for a family of four per year. BTW, I remember when we were shocked in 1972 when groceries for a week for family of six or seven went above $50. The AFDC argument has been accepted by a lot of people both left and right; Daniel Moynihan was a major early liberal proponent and McGovern obviously liked a commonly proposed alternative.
 
Last edited:

KleinTxHusker

All Legend
15 Year Member
Robert Caro is a conservative writer? :Biggrin:

Everyone who has ever commented on his first book (on Robert Moses) has said it is a spectacular sleep aid. I guess "Motherless Brooklyn" is loosely based on Moses and probably borrowed some inspiration from Caro's book. I think I'll try watching that first.:wink:
 

EastOfEden

Scout Team
10 Year Member
The best Caro book is the one in which he discuses how he writes books, although I thought the first LBJ book painted a clear picture of LBJ. Whether real or not I don't know. I have friends who read all of them, but that wasn't for me. A couple of additional comments.

Shlaes overlopks incidents and events that don't really fit into her template, so I don't expect the Great Depression book to cover all corners. We'll see. My favorite book(s) on the Great Depression are those of the Dos Passos trilogy U.S.A. and I expect that to be the case after I read this one. I was born in 1935 in the fringes of the dust bowl and had two older brothers, a father that made $9 a week, and a mother that stayed home with us until I went off to kindergarten (when she got a job at the school cafeteria). It was a wonderful experience and I feel sorry for those who have had it easy most of their life.

On the Great Society book, I was stunned at how much money the OEO put into training people with the sole purpose of making them better disrupters and rioters. I was around during that period and somehow I missed all of that. I knew a lot about urban renewal so her points on that were totally valid in my opinion. I do know a bit about banking having written a number of books on the subject, but at this point in my life, my conclusion is that we will always have panics and depressions (read Kindleberger) come what may. They can be slightly ameliorated however but usually after the fact.

On McGovern, he had just made his first speech about the $1,000 when he appeared at a Redskins preseason game about 50 yards away from me walking down the aisle and shaking hands. Stupid me got up and yelled "Give me my $1,000" and immediately the entire section of the stadium started yelling the same thing. I think his defeat started at that point, or so I like to think.

And as for Tom Wolfe - I think I read all of his books and liked them until he went to fiction. I liked the one on modern art as much as any, though the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test was my favorite.
 

KleinTxHusker

All Legend
15 Year Member
Wow, a lot to cover...
The best Caro book is the one in which he discuses how he writes books, although I thought the first LBJ book painted a clear picture of LBJ. Whether real or not I don't know. I have friends who read all of them, but that wasn't for me. A couple of additional comments.
I really liked the first book. A lot of it was due to the social history of the hill country and the impact of rural electrification. I felt like that if Caro was trying to skewer Johnson, he hardly proved his point. I actually liked Johnson better after reading the book. Interesting, I've not read his subsequent ones, but have been given Master of the Senate (second) and Goodwin's "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream." Maybe I will have time when I retire. One other book I read recently was "Landslide - LBJ Reagan and the dawn of a new America" by Jonathan Darman. It covers from early 1964 through the end of 1966 with Reagan badly defeating Pat Brown just four years after he had defeated Nixon; along with dramatic mid-term gains. I guess my biggest issue has always been the Kennedy "brain trust" who totally despised Johnson; in many ways they were vastly different than I think JFK was as a leader. I think far higher of JFK than I do of so many that were around him and who viewed LBJ as an usurper at best.

Shales overlooks incidents and events that don't really fit into her template, so I don't expect the Great Depression book to cover all corners. We'll see. My favorite book(s) on the Great Depression are those of the Dos Passos trilogy U.S.A. and I expect that to be the case after I read this one. I was born in 1935 in the fringes of the dust bowl and had two older brothers, a father that made $9 a week, and a mother that stayed home with us until I went off to kindergarten (when she got a job at the school cafeteria). It was a wonderful experience and I feel sorry for those who have had it easy most of their life.
Wow... never heard of Dos Passos or his books. Interesting individual. My parents were born in 1933, my wife's in 1930. My dad's father was a tenant farmer. My sister looked through his financial records, I think he made ~$300 in 1933. My mom's family was on relief (and charity) in the 1930's. Best work he had in that era was from WPA.

On the Great Society book, I was stunned at how much money the OEO put into training people with the sole purpose of making them better disrupters and rioters. I was around during that period and somehow I missed all of that. I knew a lot about urban renewal so her points on that were totally valid in my opinion. I do know a bit about banking having written a number of books on the subject, but at this point in my life, my conclusion is that we will always have panics and depressions (read Kindleberger) come what may. They can be slightly ameliorated however but usually after the fact.
Kindleberger, that is another new name. I agree with you on banking and panics. It is simply the nature of the beast. It all comes down to the fact that you lend long and finance it with providing liquidity on a daily basis. As long as the value of the long term assets is more or less at par (or greater) it works. In many respects, the 2008 crisis was a great re-learning of all that boring macro economics stuff. But these have been issues as long as there have been banks going back to the Medicis and undoubtedly earlier. My father is always skeptical of people who lost their farms in the 1930's - he likes to say the bank always owned the farm as they borrowed money. I point out to him that the long term loans were called in, but with a collapsing banking system, alternative lenders couldn't be found. Money supply drops no cash buyers for land and you get a huge downward spiral. Banks fail and "cash" in the sense of demand deposits (created by the banking system) fall as the system fails. Ultimately, you get into all sorts of arguments for why things got so bad. From the failure of the Fed to stanch the crisis, to Smoot Hawley tariffs, to FDR and the National Recovery Administration. FDR and his NRA and the whole commodity supply side management apparatus was one of the longest running conundrums for generations.

I have found a lot of J. M. Keynes writings to be very interesting. I guess I would tend to want to read all three views. I see Kindleberger being argued in favor of the Freidmans and some who think they disagree with Keynes on everything. I suspect all three help put it all together. Not sure what I think of "hegemonic stability theory" though... I have probably made crudely similar arguments. Just not sure I like where that leads.

On McGovern, he had just made his first speech about the $1,000 when he appeared at a Redskins preseason game about 50 yards away from me walking down the aisle and shaking hands. Stupid me got up and yelled "Give me my $1,000" and immediately the entire section of the stadium started yelling the same thing. I think his defeat started at that point, or so I like to think.
You were once a smart aleck... :Biggrin: Good thing there weren't video cameras everywhere back then.

And as for Tom Wolfe - I think I read all of his books and liked them until he went to fiction. I liked the one on modern art as much as any, though the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test was my favorite.
I've read many, but never made it through Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Haven't ever bought Bauhaus even though the subject interests me...
 
Last edited:

EastOfEden

Scout Team
10 Year Member
Shlaes joined our book group last night. She is very articulate and has her reasons for most everything. A number of things were particularly interesting.

1. I asked why she skipped over the war years and the '50s in book writing. (she did the Coolidge years and the Great Depression, then jumped to the Great Society.) I thought there was a lot of economic considerations that she could have looked at during those periods. She said that economics in wartime is totally confusing, and the Marshall plan and other similar efforts combined with road building and other Eisenhower years made for a fairly negative book. She did not want to write a negative book for an interesting reason - it wouldn't sell.

2. There was some major disagreement with many in the group on the question of why she skipped Earth Day and all it stands for while focusing on issues that were much more important to her but of a much shorter duration of influence. The argument being made by a number in our group was that she focused everything on individual effort and Earth Day by its very nature requires communal action. There was no resolution to that discussion.

3. She raised an idea none of us had heard of, quoting a black conservative named Robert Moses. He received a MacArthur grant to attempt to put into practice his idea that we should be focusing all of our energy directed to solving the racial problem on educating all black kids on mathematics up through algebra (its called the Algebra Project) Moses is persuaded that if kids would do that, they would have the ability to get jobs that had some value and challenges and that would make major strides in solving the racial problems. As you can imagine, that created a lot of discussion. It reminds me of the Latino teacher in one of the barrios in LA that taught his students calculus and had more kids pass the AP calculus test than any other high school in the country.

That discussion then moved to early childhood education primarily because we have two of the country's leading experts on that in the group. She agreed with all of the arguments about the importance of that and also the difficulty in getting it past intellectual agreement and into action.

4. She really liked Moynihan, finding him totally authentic, and was astounded on how important Walter Reuther was in the entire Great Society program (He paid bail for MLK when Bobby Kennedy called and asked him to do so. When Reuther asked why RFK called him, RFK said we don't have anyone else to call. .She also said that she is convinced the JFK was much more conservative than RFK and didn't know what RFK was doing much of the time.

5. Finally she asked what her next book should be. She got a dizzying variety of ideas. It's not clear what she will write next. Moved by the ability of a friend to write a best selling graphic novel, she tried her hand at that but doesn't want to write another one. She has moved to a small town in Maine where she and her husband live most of the time. She likes knowing everyone in town and having the people in town try to solve their problems themselves. Sigh. Yesterday's world.

Incidentally, I disagree with your friends that argue she is crazy on her analysis of the Great Depression. She discusses everything that is going on (I'm about half way trough that book) and that included the money supply arguments. I think most would now agree that there were many causes for the Depression and many mistakes were made in trying to get out of it. Some worked and others didn't and we needed the war to get us out of it.

It's always fun to have the author join us for our discussions, but it doesn't happen very often.
 
Last edited:

KleinTxHusker

All Legend
15 Year Member
I've got some questions and comments on your previous post; but something else came up and I wonder if Shlaes had any views on the question of Johnson's Vietnam Policy to enable the Great Society.

I found the below very interesting; from his Undersecretary for National Security (Europe); Frances M Bator. A pretty long read, but one that is interesting. Bator has a much different and generally more favorable view of Johnson's overall ability and his views than the one Halberstam presented. Somewhere along the way, I believe McNamara had also made the "we cannot lose Vietnam in 1965 and have the Great Society" argument; perhaps that was to Halberstam, too.


Basically Bator early says Johnson was very good in foreign affairs in the areas he covered (Europe). He cites as support a recent history of Johnson's handling of European issues; below. I selected these because I only have two paragraphs...

Johnson’s handling of his Vietnam field commander, General William Westmoreland, during June and July 1965 caused McGeorge Bundy to describe LBJ as a “very majority-leader-like commander in chief.” As Schwartz’s book shows, Johnson was in fact a very commander-in-chief-like manager of foreign policy: he overruled his cabinet officers and staff whenever he thought we were mistaken. But I believe that Johnson did think of his foreign counterparts—German chancellors Ludwig Erhard and Kurt Kiesinger, British prime minister Harold Wilson, French president Charles De Gaulle, and even Kremlin chiefs Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin—in somewhat the way he as Senate majority leader had thought of his senior congressional colleagues and committee chairmen. He was a formidable bargainer. Striking deals across the entire range of issues on and off the table— thinking about what was and was not bargainable, what those on the other side of the table needed, what would induce them to help him with what he needed—was second nature for him. It irked him when, as often, his most distinguished senior advisers didn’t quite get it.
It helped, of course, that, as Bundy put it, “He had a very, very big and tough mind.” The whole idea that Johnson felt outgunned “by the Harvards” is just plain silly. He respected brains and regretted that he didn’t have a highbrow education, but he knew perfectly well that he was as smart as anyone around—not just shrewd, but analytically smart. And he was irritated by some of the patronizing nonsense to the contrary written about him. A six-foot, four-inch near giant with huge features and an uncanny ability to size up people—quick witted, inventively bawdy, a natural mimic—he dominated any room he entered, all the more so as president. There were no “peers” in the administration: not Robert McNamara, not anyone. His old Senate colleagues—Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen, and Russell Long—were the peers.v
 
Last edited:
Top