Robert McElvaine on The News Hour: reconsidering consumption

I’ve posted a couple of items recently (here and here) about the renewed relevance in these painful economic times of Robert McElvaine’s classic collection of letters written to FDR, Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man.

On Friday, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer aired a wonderful segment featuring McElvaine and his book,  incorporating some footage from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (the 1939 Frank Capra film starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, and Claude Rains).

McElvaine ultimately calls for a reconsideration of the 20th-century American value of conspicuous consumption:

[I]t does seem to me that, if we’re going to have to suffer through some hard times, that it would be good to at least see some beneficial things that might come out of it.

And I — I really believe that trying to move away from such an emphasis on consumption as a way of life is something that, while it’s going to be bad for the economy in the short run, is something that we really desperately need to do. Perhaps under the impact of a new economic collapse, we might move away from that and find some other solution to our economic problems.

As Jimmy Stewart’s Jefferson Smith says:

Just one plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust.

You can listen to the podcast or watch the News Hour segment online.