A retired Wall Street Journal editor recalls growing up in a small Midwestern town in the 1930s and strives to show the relevance to today's economic struggles across the country.
In this slim volume, Melloan (The Great Money Binge: Spending Our Way to Socialism, 2009, etc.) has actually produced three books: a meandering memoir of Whiteland, Indiana, a lightly populated farm town; a broader anecdotal, sometimes revisionist history of the Great Depression; and a screed more or less faithful to President Ronald Reagan's oft-cited quotation, “government isn't the solution to our problem, government is the problem." The memoir portions serve as the most intriguing passages of this hybrid book, although even in those chapters Melloan mixes interesting characters and situations with those of such limited interest that it seems only his close relatives might care. As the youngest of eight children born to a family that often struggled financially, Melloan understandably discusses the traits of his siblings, parents, and additional family members. Certainly a memorable character from the Whiteland area is Ralph Barger, described by the author as a hunchbacked dwarf. Melloan explains how Barger earned trust and a livelihood during difficult times. In the author’s narrative, Barger also becomes a symbol as a self-sufficient free-market capitalist rather than someone who today might exist on handouts from government welfare agencies. Throughout, Melloan praises and sometimes romanticizes farmers, truckers, railroad laborers, and other blue-collar strivers who worked hard and avoided government handouts. When Melloan turns his focus to the larger economic scenario during the 1930s and the 2000s, he delights in bashing professional economists, presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and their political advisers, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the journalism and fiction of John Steinbeck, and many other proverbial cows, sacred or otherwise.
Authors tend to want to reach the maximum number of readers; Melloan, on the other hand, seems determined to drive away anybody who might be considered a "liberal."