lfb.org / By Douglas French / February 1, 2013
For his U.S. economic history class at UNLV, Murray Rothbard gave us the assignment to write a 10-page paper. The paper could be on anything we wanted it to be. However, we had to clear the topic with him.
When I proposed writing about the Great Depression, Murray was thrilled and rattled off a number of sources. Near the top of his list was a book he described as “fantastic, except it has a terrible title.”
That book is this week’s Laissez Faire Club selection — Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914-1946 by Benjamin M. Anderson. As you can imagine, this is a book I have very fond memories of. My copy still has paper clips marking several pages. The text is underlined throughout.
Anderson was one of the first economists to provide a systematic account of the causes of the Great Depression. It remains the most reliable documentary guide to precisely what happened, before, during, and after. That is the essence of this book.
Anderson had feet both in academia and banking. He was on the faculty at Columbia and later at Harvard, and then joined National Bank of Commerce in 1918. Two years later, he moved to Chase National Bank to serve as economist and editor of the Chase Economic Bulletin.
He was also a world-class chess player and wrote what’s been described as a brilliant preface to Jose Capablanca’s book A Primer of Chess. Sadly, Anderson never saw Economics and the Public Welfare in print. He died of a heart attack just prior to its publication.