It is human nature to make a case for what you intuitively “know.” The trouble is that people often end up making a wrong idea sound plausible by surrounding it with facts chosen to persuade, while at the same time ignoring ones that raise doubts.
In this week’s The New Republic, Jonathan Chait argues that Amity Shlaes and her Republican cheering section have succumbed to this sort of bias in their fervent desire to reject the notion that the New Deal blunted the Great Depression. Her book, The Forgotten Man, seeks to build a case against FDR and his initiatives. Chait argues that Shales and those who embrace her thesis are dangerously wrong. In his article, Chait analyzes the book and concludes, “…Shlaes does not make any actual argument at all, though she does venture some bold claims, which she both fails to substantiate and contradicts elsewhere. … The experience of reading The Forgotten Man is more like talking to an old person who lived through the Depression than it is like reading an actual history of the Depression. Major events get cursory treatment while minor characters, such as an idiosyncratic black preacher or the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, receive lengthy portraits.”
Just because someone writes four hundred pages promoting an idea doesn’t mean they have done an intellectually rigorous or even honest treatment of the subject. It truly is dangerous when people seek to influence policy based on faulty beliefs bolstered by an argument that collapses under critical scrutiny. Shlaes seems to be spawning a latter-day crop of Hoover Republicans—this can lead nowhere good.