Amity Shlaes writes a column for Forbes and serves as the chairman of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Coolidge, The Forgotten Man, and The Greedy Hand. She chairs the jury for the Hayek Book Prize of the Manhattan Institute. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
In Great Society, Amity Shlaes argues that just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal overshadowed a generation of forgotten men, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society gave rise to a silent majority, a coterie of dispossessed citizens—made famous by Richard Nixon and celebrated by Donald Trump—who rejected what they saw as the federal government’s overreach. Drawing on her classic economic expertise and deep historical knowledge, Shlaes challenges the traditional narrative of 1960s America and Johnson’s experiment, recasting the story of the Great Society as a tale of hubris that remains consequential for America fifty years later.
Contemporary Americans share many of the concerns that bedeviled Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and their voters. Racial differences, economic opportunity and outcomes, abuse of political power, and establishment corruption trouble us now just as these issues preoccupied the nation then. Yet today, poverty remains intractable and is actually growing, and the costs of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are spiraling as the number of people claiming benefits grows. The question the Great Society tried to answer remains the same: how can we build a better future for all Americans? Shlaes contends that only an understanding of the historical record can make optimism—and practical solutions—possible.
A deep analysis of the government policy that has shaped politics and society for fifty years, Great Society is an authoritative and well-reasoned reinterpretation of Johnson’s signature achievement and the momentous period in which it was conceived.