BPF Book Review of Great Society


Bigger Pie Forum | BPF Book Review of Great Society | Ashby Foote
Amity Shlaes is a former Wall Street Journal columnist turned best-selling author and her latest book, Great Society: A New History is a great read.  For those who did not live through the 1960’s, it was a turbulent time for the country with civil unrest, social and racial upheaval, riots in major cities, the Vietnam War and the terrible assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK.  Shlaes’ thorough and diligent research through newspapers, journals and personal memoirs provides a fascinating glimpse inside the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations during the turmoil of the 60’s and early 70’s.  As the title suggests, the book is focused on the massive “great society” social programs that President Johnson enacted during his almost six years as President.  It turned out to be a great lurch forward in the administrative state.
Great Society is an important contribution to the history of that era but readers today will find chapter 12 of special interest.  It deals with a culmination of severe crises that confronted Nixon in the spring of 1971.  The President faced the triple whammy of a slowing economy, exploding budget deficits from the “guns” of Vietnam and the “butter” of the ever expanding great society social programs and a currency crisis caused by growing foreign demand to exchange U.S. dollars for U.S. gold per the Bretton Woods agreement in place since 1944.  By 1971, gold was trading unofficially for $40 while the official exchange rate for gold was $35.  It was an arbitrage opportunity for countries such as France to exchange dollars for gold and they did.  Nixon greatly feared U.S. gold reserves being drained below the $10 billion mark.  The stresses culminated in a big policy pow-wow of his brain-trust at Camp David

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