January 24 2017
Coolidge biographer and ace economics writer Amity Shlaes argues in today's must-read that how Donald Trump defines "The Forgotten Man" will be key to Mr. Trump's presidency. Trump promised in his inaugural address that the "forgotten man and woman will be forgotten no longer."
How does the new president see the forgotten men and women of this country? Who are these people?
In fact, two opposing Forgotten Men figure in American history. Which one Trump actually backs will determine what kind of presidency his ends up being.
The more familiar Forgotten Man was the brainchild of another populist campaigner, Franklin Roosevelt. During the 1932 presidential campaign, a point when two in 10 workers were unemployed, Roosevelt expressed concern for “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” The New York governor meant the
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Roosevelt’s is the first Forgotten Man who comes to mind now. But in those days, another version was just as familiar. That was the one captured by a legendary Yale professor named William Graham Sumner. His Forgotten Man was an anonymous figure, suffering the collateral damage of a project advanced to help the group identified as vulnerable. In Sumner's definition, he was “the man who pays, the man who prays, the man who is not thought of.”
A classical liberal in the U.K. tradition, Sumner therefore rejected any law for special groups: earmarks, targeted social programs, official interest-group organizations, narrow tax breaks. The professor especially abhorred protectionism, then also a plank in the Republican platform, because protectionism benefited a narrow group: New England industrialists. Sumner called protectionism "the ism which teaches that waste makes wealth."
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So which Forgotten Man will Trump make his own? His protectionism, a reversion to ancient Republican trade policy, is seen as a pitch to one such group. But this doctrine only deters economic growth, and favors what you could call "remembered groups," like organized labor, instead of helping "the man who pays."
Some Cabinet selections suggest Trump favors Sumner’s anonymous man or woman. One example is the nominee for Labor secretary, Andy Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants. While most Labor secretaries have a background in dealing with unions or are otherwise focused on organized labor, they have not always had experience in creating jobs and working with smaller employers like the fast-food industry's franchisees, who employ thousands of nonunion workers. Puzder's focus is on general growth in his industry, not on specific trades with groups.
The choice of a treasury secretary from Goldman Sachs might send a different signal.