Vicarious Generosity and The Forgotten Man

Henry Hazlitt used the following excerpt from an 1883 essay (available here) by William Graham Sumner to help illustrate a point in his book Economics in One Lesson:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is look up C… I call him the Forgotten Man… He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.

Hazlitt, writing in 1946, sheds further light on this scenario in the context of the New Deal (see this speech by FDR):

It is a historical irony that when this phrase, the Forgotten Man, was revived in the 1930’s, it was applied, not to C, but to X; and C, who was then being asked to support still more X’s, was more completely forgotten than ever. It is C, the Forgotten Man, who is always called upon to stanch the politician’s bleeding heart by paying for his vicarious generosity.

What do you think Hazlitt might say today?

2 comments on “Vicarious Generosity and The Forgotten Man

  1. John, am I misunderstanding the second quote, or is there a typo? Should the last line read, “It is *C*, the Forgotten Man, who is always called upon to stanch…”

    Maybe I just don’t get what he’s trying to say.

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