September 5, 2013 | Alumni
September 4, 2013
Martin L. Gross, a writer whose books criticizing government spending and taxation became best sellers in the 1990s and were embraced more recently by supporters of the Tea Party, died on Aug. 21 in Ocala, Fla. He was 88.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Amie. No cause was given.
Mr. Gross was a newspaper reporter, edited small magazines, and wrote books critical of psychiatry, psychotherapy and the medical care system before he took aim at the federal government in 1992, finding it a swamp of bureaucratic waste and political corruption in the book “The Government Racket: Washington Waste from A to Z.”
The book found a receptive audience, appealing to fiscal conservatives and libertarians in the same year that Ross Perot drew surprising support in his third-party bid for president by arguing against government bloat.
Senator John McCain sometimes carried the book with him and mentioned it in public, and by the late summer of 1992 it had jumped onto national best-seller lists. Mr. Gross was invited to testify before Congressional committees.
“There used to be a very efficient federal government,” he said in a 1992 interview on C-Span, referring to what he called the “small lean machine” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “It’s been invaded by theorists, academicians, spendthrifts, congressmen who want to spend money.”
Mr. Gross advocated what he called “a peaceful revolution, a velvet revolution.” But, he added, “the people have to become outraged enough.”
“We got outraged against the Soviet and we won,” he added. “We have to get outraged against the next enemy, which is Washington, D.C. We’ve got to do what Jefferson wanted us to do, which is return government to the people.”
Two years later he was back with another best seller, “The Tax Racket,” in which he argued for eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. Gross, who also wrote novels, stopped writing for several years before returning in 2009 with “National Suicide: How Washington Is Destroying the American Dream From A to Z.” The book arrived just as the Tea Party was gaining in popularity, and Mr. Gross, well into his 80s, became a guest on conservative television and radio shows.
“He was writing what he had always written,” said Tom Colgan, Mr. Gross’s editor at Penguin, which published “National Suicide.” “The market came to him. He didn’t go to the market.”
Martin Louis Gross was born on Aug. 15, 1925, and grew up poor in the Bronx. He said in interviews that his father had been a semiprofessional boxer and that his family had managed a laundry.
He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the City College of New York and worked for a time in advertising. He spent many years as a freelance newspaper and magazine writer before he began writing books, including “The Doctors,” in 1966, which argued that medical care in America was failing, and “The Psychological Society,” in 1978.
Mr. Gross was an active Democrat in the 1950s and 1960s, volunteering for the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy. He founded the magazine Intellectual Digest in 1970 and was later the editor of Book Digest.
In addition to his daughter Amie, his survivors include another daughter, Ellen Tracey Gross, and two grandchildren.
Critics accused Mr. Gross of being loose with numbers and statistics. They said that while he wrote about important topics, he frequently glossed over details or made unsubstantiated arguments that individual examples reflected wider truths.
“Such extrapolations can be hazardous,” Harold M. Schmeck Jr. wrote in The New York Times in a review of “The Doctors” in 1967.
Mr. Gross accused his critics of being sympathetic to the institutions he criticized.
In an interview with People magazine in 1993, he said of his audiences: “I am their hero.
I always know what people need and why, because I’m Mr. Joe Sixpack with a good brain.”
Originally published by The New York Times