Shlaes, Amity 1960-
Shlaes, Amity 1960-
Wall Street Journal (European edition), editorial features editor, 1986-90; Wall Street Journal, New York, NY, deputy editorial features editor, 1990-92; editorial features editor, 1992-94, editorial board member, 1994-2000. Columnist for Financial Times, 2000-2005, and Bloomberg, 2006—. Senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations. Contributor to Marketplace on National Public Radio. Appeared on numerous radio and television shows.
Cowinner, Frederic Bastiat Prize, 2002, for writing on political economy; J.P. Morgan fellow for finance and economy, American Academy in Berlin, 2003; Deadline Club of New York award winner, 2007; Newswomen's Club of New York winner, 2007.
Germany: The Empire Within, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1991.
The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do about It, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Turning Intellect into Influence: The Manhattan Institute at 25, edited by Brian C. Anderson, Reed Press, 2004. Contributor to periodicals, including National Review, New Yorker, Fortune, New Republic, Foreign Affairs, American Spectator, and Tax Notes.
Amity Shlaes is a journalist and political economist who has written for several prominent institutions, including the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. In her post as a senior fellow for economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations, she studies the relationship between entrepreneurship and commodity wealth, particularly in regard to Russia and India. In her syndicated column for Bloomberg, which appears in many newspapers and Web sites, she discusses topics related to the political economy.
Shlaes's first book, Germany: The Empire Within, was published in 1990, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. Germany had for years been divided into two entities, East Germany and West Germany, and Shlaes's book sought to analyze the possible dangers posed to the rest of the world by a reunited German state. Her book is written as an "impressionistic travelogue," stated Genevieve Stuttaford in a Publishers Weekly review of Germany. The author recounts her traveling around Germany and speaking to various groups of its citizens. These range from people with a considerable stake in maintaining the status quo to Jewish students who fear echoes of the genocide that took place in World War II. The author's reporting is "meticulous," according to Stuttaford, and her careful accuracy lends weight to what she has to say. Stuttaford said that the book, despite acknowledging a deep-rooted nationalism in the German character, suggested an "uneasy no" in answer to the question of whether or not modern Germany was a threat to freedom or democracy. A different interpretation came from Matthew Scully in the National Review. He noted that of all the people Shlaes interviewed, "just about everybody … expresses some familiar old grudge, if not ethnic in nature then ideological or nationalistic." Scully praised the author's "judicious yet good-natured, chipper tone that somehow manages to brighten this otherwise dreary talk" of German empire-building.
Shlaes was an editorial board member at the Wall Street Journal when she published her next book, The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do about It. As the title clearly implies, Shlaes is in favor of small government and fewer taxes, but her book "stands out as something more than just another anti-tax, anti-government screed," wrote David Rouse in Booklist. She carefully analyzes the U.S. tax system and gives examples to illustrate the way tax laws meant to help one group often harm another. She discusses the effects taxes have had on jobs, homes, schools, shopping, and many other aspects of American life and gives her suggestions for reforming and improving the tax system in the United States. Some of her ideas include abolishing the estate tax, privatizing Social Security, and simplifying the entire tax structure. Reason contributor David R. Henderson commended Shlaes for writing "thoughtfully" about Social Security taxes. The author also details the problems posed by taxes for married couples, and according to Henderson, "Shlaes' story of how the marriage penalty developed over about 50 years is detailed and well worth reading." A Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized Shlaes book as "colorful" and easy to read, but also "furious and furiously argued."
The Social Security plan came into being during the long presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it is just one of his policies that Shlaes finds misguided. She details her disapproval of Roosevelt's programs and policies within the context of her book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. The "forgotten man" was often referred to by supporters of Roosevelt's New Deal programs, which were intended to help Americans struggling through the Depression. When they spoke of the "forgotten man," they meant the people who were struggling to survive during the Depression. Yet from the perspective of the philosopher William Graham Sumner, the real "forgotten man" is the one who was taxed to pay for the social programs that were put in place as part of the New Deal. "In this telling of the story, stirring speeches and massive social convulsions take second place to acute observation of how the New Deal grafted an overgrown bureaucracy on the political culture of the United States," stated Stephen Schwartz in the Weekly Standard. "While the outcome of the New Deal was perceived as beneficial, and was unaccompanied by repression, it has long been observed that the emergence of the American social welfare state had elements in common with Mussolini's fascism, Hitler's state-directed economic revival, and Stalinist compulsory agrarian collectivization and central planning."
Shlaes questions the reputation of Roosevelt's predecessor, Herbert Hoover, in her book. Hoover is often denigrated as a president who did little while the nation floundered through the early days of the Great Depression. Shlaes documents the many steps Hoover did take to try to rectify the situation but notes that Hoover's activities were much less drastic than Roosevelt's. Nevertheless, she feels that Roosevelt and the New Deal are unfairly credited with ending the Depression, when in fact, it was the economic boom caused by World War II that pulled the country out of its economic doldrums.
Although The Forgotten Man clearly is not written in support of Roosevelt and the New Deal programs, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the author treats her subject evenhandedly, remaining aware of the danger of governmental failure to intervene as well as the danger of becoming overly involved in economic issues. It is "plausible history," stated the reviewer, and provides a "thoughtful, even-tempered corrective" to the unrestrained praise that is often given to FDR and his programs.
Other commentators saw the book differently. For example, a writer for Kirkus Reviews felt that the author's theories are highly unlikely, to the point that they require "revisionism so massive that Shlaes' powers of persuasion become as hit-or-miss as the liberal programs she criticizes." The reviewer goes on to praise Shlaes for her "plucky, intellectual combat," but faults the author for failing to adequately address arguments that hold the Republican party, not FDR, responsible for the Great Depression. Numerous reviewers commented on Shlaes's readable style; Gilbert Taylor, reviewing for Booklist, said that her "accent on personalities is an appealing avenue into her skeptical critique of the New Deal."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Spectator, June, 2007, Brian S. Wesbury, "Abused and Depressed," p. 71.
Booklist, February 15, 1999, David Rouse, review of The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do about It, p. 1017; May 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, p. 68.
Economist, July 21, 2007, review of The Forgotten Man, p. 83.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of The Forgotten Man.
Library Journal, February 15, 1991, Norman Lederer, review of Germany: The Empire Within, p. 210; February 1, 1999, Patrick J. Brunet, review of The Greedy Hand, p. 104; May 15, 2007, Diane Fulkerson, review of The Forgotten Man, p. 102.
National Review, April 29, 1991, Matthew Scully, review of Germany, p. 50; July 30, 2007, Steven F. Hayward, review of The Forgotten Man, p. 46.
New Yorker, April 15, 1991, review of Germany, p. 104; April 19, 1999, Malcolm Gladwell, review of The Greedy Hand, p. 95.
Officer, June, 2007, Marshall A. Hanson, "An Algebraic Explanation for Politics," p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Germany, p. 57; January 25, 1999, review of The Greedy Hand, p. 79; April 2, 2007, review of The Forgotten Man, p. 52.
Reason, April, 1999, David R. Henderson, review of The Greedy Hand, p. 61.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of The Forgotten Man.
Weekly Standard, July 30, 2007, Stephen Schwartz, review of The Forgotten Man.
Amity Shlaes's Home Page,http://www.amityshlaes.com (January 19, 2008).
Commentary,https://www.commentarymagazine.com/ (February 14, 2007), James Piereson, review of The Forgotten Man.
Council on Foreign Relations,http://www.cfr.org/ (January 19, 2008), biographical information on Amity Shlaes.
Foreign Affairs,https://www.foreignaffairs.org.com/ (February 8, 2008), Charles W. Calomiris, "A Raw Deal," review of The Forgotten Man.
New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (August 26, 2007), David Leonhardt, review of The Forgotten Man.
Slate,http://www.slate.com/ (July 5, 2007), Eric Rauchway, review of The Forgotten Man.
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