Could We Use a Man Like Herbert Hoover Again?



Over at EconLog, Bryan Caplan gives one of Herbert Hoover's final campaign speeches a close reading. In a November 1932 address to about 15,000 people in St. Paul, the president declared that he had enacted 21 "long-view policies to cement [the economic] recovery and to stimulate progress in our country for the future." If anyone still believes the stereotype of Hoover as an apostle of laissez faire, Caplan will disabuse you of the idea: "out of 21 measures," he writes, "we have two matches with Hoover's stereotype, plus two partial matches. The remaining 17 measures directly contradict the stereotype. If liberal historians focused on policy instead of party, they would cast Hoover as John the Baptist to FDR's Jesus—not Satan."

Elsewhere in Reason: In April I recalled the real story of the 1932 election. And in our January issue, Nick Gillespie interviewed Amity Shlaes about Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Depression.

NEXT: Weigel vs. Lilly, Round Two

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  1. This hasn’t been a secret. The trick is to get public school teachers and MSM journalists to learn a little history.

  2. My father always said that Hoover took all the heat and the blame for the Depression and FDR simply continued or expanded upon Hoover’s polices and programs thereby cementing his self as the Great White Father.

  3. Hoover was a great humanitarian who saved millions in Europe from starvation through his humanitarian work, but that’s always given short shift (at the high school level at least).

  4. Hoover/FDR, Bush/Obama.

    I’m going to find some quiet corner to curl up to cry in now.

  5. While it may be superficially true that Hoover was an economic interventionist, the story that he was a laissez faire proponent serves a larger truth. Namely that central planning is much better than letting markets run wild.

  6. Lefiti centrally plans his masturbation sessions around tentacle porn and Naomi Klein.

  7. Funny how lies so often serve the Larger Truth.

  8. i think there is something to william appleman williams’ left-revisionist take on hoover as a good conservative. if only we could have had his compassionate corporatism and disarmament (!) instead of what FDR wrought.

  9. Letifi?

  10. Just trollin’ guys! lol…

  11. Just trollin’ guys! lol…

    My point still stands.

  12. Lefiti,

    Namely that central planning is much better than letting markets run wild.

    Central planning is quite ineffecient and comes with significant costs to individual freedom, included in that freedom is freedom of the political and civil variety.

  13. The carillon at the church next door just pealed out with, I shit you not, “Deutschland Uber Alles.”

    OK, I realize the tune is by Haydn and predates Weimar. Nevertheless, it made me jumpy.

  14. On top of my dreading the next economic travesty, I now have that damn song stuck in my head. Thanks Reason.

    BTW, have you heard that Bird Is The Word?

  15. I wonder what new forms we will get of these phrases.

    Get me out of this decrepit Hoover-ville!

    Bad times are still Hoover-ing over us.

  16. What I loved about central planning in the USSR was the prediction (by Soviet economists) in the 1960s that if the USSR were to undertake a program which dramatically increased the level and variety of consumer goods that it would take more people to plan it than lived in the Sovet state. It was thought that computers could solve the problem but it didn’t.

  17. “central planning is much better than letting markets run wild.”

    Yay Power. Yay Order. Yay Control.

    Our wise and benevolent masters surely know best what is good for us.

  18. If God or some other perfect or near perfect being with omniscience, benevolence, and omnipotence takes over and wants to centrally plan everything, okay. Until that time, fuck off.

  19. Sorry, make that “piss off”. I’m a little cranky today.

  20. Clearly, that person is Lefiti (or “Letifi”), Pro L.

  21. I think there’s someone fake-posting as Lefiti. The content isn’t much different from what he would actually post, but it’s not said in a properly snarky manner.

  22. Hoover could hardly run on a laissez faire policy when unemployment was running around 25%. Hoover’s thinking was quite in line with conservative economic thought of the day. Tariffs were a good thing and balanced budgets were sacred. Modern-day conservatives make a point of misunderstanding Hoover in order to pretend that he was really a liberal.

    Unlike Jesse, Bryan, Nick, and Amity, Hoover was a highly successful businessman (he liked to say “A man who isn’t a millionaire by the time he’s forty doesn’t amount to much”). He was very bright and probably knew more about economics than any president in U.S. history. But as a president he was a failure. Life in the U.S. has been much better after the New Deal than before.

  23. “he liked to say “A man who isn’t a millionaire by the time he’s forty doesn’t amount to much”
    Well, then he was an asshole.

  24. A.V.,
    Life in the U.S. has also been much better after the bombing of Hiroshima, the birth and death of disco, the foundation of Scientology, or any number of events than before.

  25. Of course Alan, we all know how strongly conservatives and libertarians are pushing for a 63% top marginal tax rate, higher tariffs, and the rest of Hoover’s program. I would also point out that successful businessmen regularly err in policy recommendations. One can be a highly successful specialist in one area, and be a complete flop in another. That said, I respect Hoover’s background as a businessman and engineer. He should probably have stuck with that.

  26. Citizen Nothing,
    Everyone knows that the founding of Scientology improved life the world over.

  27. e.,
    Precisely. I rest my case.

  28. Finally, it doesn’t matter (on a libertarian blog) what was sacrosanct to conservatives “of Hoover’s days”. Most libertarians would strongly prefer a balanced budget but don’t think tariffs are a good thing.

  29. I really love social security. My life is so much better because of social security. I also love farm subsidies. And massive government sponsored cartels devoted to centrally planning…Oh, right, that was ruled unconstitutional. Which was quickly followed by FDR trying to “improve” the court by adding a few seats that he could choose the occupants of.

  30. @economist-You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about. Of course, I expected that you would hate social security, because you’re a libertarian and libertarians hate social security more thean enything in thewhole world. You obviously don’t give a shit about the salience of Keynesian economics, which while FDR didn’t apply them perfectly he at least introduced, which helped stabilize the economy for decades. The current instability of the econmy has occured because you free market fundies have effectively erased Keynesian economics from the public consciousness.

  31. OK, CO, that’s probably enough meth. I know you’re worried about libertarians taking over the world. Because, you know, everyone takes every libertarian policy recommendation and implements it immediately. That’s why we have a progressive income tax, an extensive regulatory state, and a sizeable welfare state.

  32. I’m sorry you’re having a bad LSD trip, really. But you’re not being attacked by a scary libertarian monster. It’s just a hallucination.

  33. “New deal Coffee: So Good, You’ll Bore Your Grandchildren With Stories About It.”

  34. Life in the U.S. has been much better after the New Deal than before.

    “post hoc” is the implication
    but in truth there is no causation
    did the new deal
    improve general weal?
    most econs say you’re mistaken

  35. @Nasi-I guess if the only people you read are Miltoon Friedman and Friedric Hayek, then you would say “most economists”. However, for those of us who live in thereal world, there are actually many economists who don’t consdier the New Deal the epitome of evil. Try reading Keynes. Or Krugman, for that matter. Hell, read any random economist besides you’re idealogical heroes.

  36. Pl, aren’t we scheduled to have a “near perfect being with omniscience, benevolence, and omnipotence take over and want to centrally plan everything” on January 20?

  37. Good one, RCDean!

  38. My mind has truly been opened. Thank you, sir, for your kind and enlightened admonition, made without any undue assumptions, egotistical chest thumping, or condescension. You are a paragon of the intertubes, from whom we should all attempt to learn.

  39. See, if c.o. was a respectable troll, he would have responded to Nasik in limerick form. But he’s just an unimaginative dick.

  40. @Citizen Nothing. SO if I tell someone the at they should step out of their libertarian bulbble and actually learn something about economics other thatn what their heroes Milton Friedman and Hayek say, I’m being an unimagnative dick?

  41. R C Dean,

    Oh, yeah, you’re right. I waive my objections! Festival!

  42. Exactly, c.o.

    See, it isn’t so hard:

    Economists say the depression
    Was stemmed by the fed’s intercession.
    But guys like Von Mises
    Blew that shit to pieces.
    (I credit the war on the Pr(u)essians.)

  43. You just respond with witty one-liners because you’re afraid to have your libertarian bubbles burst by reading something that disagrees with your sacred writings and echo chamber discussions.

  44. c.o. Sorry, dude. You’re boring. And that’s just death around here.

  45. concerned observer,

    I would note that “Keynsianism” led to stagflation, which Friedman predicted it would. “Most economists” argued that it Friedman was simply wrong; that high inflation and high unemployment were impossible to have at the same time, but Friedman was proved to be right.

  46. @Seward-Yes, Keynesianism didn’t work out perfectly once in forty years, so that must mean it’s crap. By contrast your precious supply-side economics has failed consistently for almost thirty years and you still defend it. Like I said, cognitive dissonance.

  47. @Citizen Nothing-Sorry that an actual argument seems boring, rather than your normal libertarian circlejerkoff.

  48. Ah, c.o. If only you’d make one. If not, at least have the wit to attempt wit.

  49. SO if I tell someone the at they should step out of their libertarian bulbble and actually learn something about economics other thatn what their heroes Milton Friedman and Hayek say, I’m being an unimagnative dick?

    Indeed. Unimaginative because you never even guessed that I had never read any Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek. A dick because you never even thought to ask why I said what I said, preferring instead blanket condemnation and trollery.

    If you had asked, I would gladly have volunteered that my claim is derived from what I have observed in the form of articles from the world outside of my “libertarian bubble” and from what people I consider to be more familiar with the world of economics than myself have said. Moreover I would gladly have submitted my claim to people more knowledgable than myself, but instead I was confronted only by a troll and so gave nothing but sarcasm.

    Maybe you should find something more constructive to do, like burning ants with a magnifying glass, and leave the enlightenment of the ignorant libertarian horde to someone more empathetic and skilled than yourself.

  50. That’s cool and all, Nasik, but can’t you put it in limerick form again?

  51. concerned observer,

    …Keynesianism didn’t work out perfectly once in forty years…

    Say that is true (I doubt it), it not working once led to a great deal of economic turbulence and pain for roughly a decade, and that model led to something which was claimed that it would not.

    I’m not a supply-sider, per se. If anything I probably find Schumpeter is closer to my views, or I am closer to his views to be more exact.

  52. concerned observer,

    As for Hayek or Friedman, which works by them did you find the most enlightening?

  53. c.o. hasn’t read a damn thing,
    ‘Cause reading just makes his brain ring.
    He gets all his knowledge
    From some dude at college
    And lefty guests on Larry King.

  54. Okay, CN, let’s see…

    Some silly troll told me “suck it”
    Seein’s how I “live in a bucket”
    But it turned out that troll
    Was just on top of some pole
    And forget quite where he had stuck it

  55. concerned observer,

    I would also note that it was from Friedman that an emphasis on monetary policy came into being; Keynes simply didn’t understand that the money supply is what causes inflation. Keynesians responded to these observations by actually latching onto and integrating moneterist ideas.

  56. I, for one, welcome Nasikabatrachus to our dysfunctional little discussion group.

  57. or,

    Milt Friedman invented “M1”
    Which Keynes considered no fun.
    “Let’s spend our way rich
    You son of a bitch,
    On bridges and butter and guns.”

  58. BDB and christhamrin: There’s a fair amount to admire about Hoover, but almost all of it involves foreign affairs and most of it takes place when he wasn’t in office. His economic policies as president are what’s on the table now, and they were generally bad. (And as secretary of commerce he arguably did more than anyone else to pave the way for the FCC’s reign over the electromagnetic spectrum, so he gets extra damnation for that.)

  59. Old people were once too poor
    FDR helped evened the score,

    Galbreath said he was a hero,
    but if you die before 65 you get zero,

    even if you make minimum wage,
    they’ll stick your money in a cage,

    Thurow said “that sounds fair,
    I’ll live long what do I care?”

    the tax free foundations avoided the tax,
    who dies early? the poor and the blacks.

  60. krugman and keynes, concerned observed does enjoy,
    counterfeiting by them is to be employed,

    they say it is good if done a very special way,
    if slaves get excited and try to play,
    they’ll be sent to prison or an early grave.

    the ends justifies the means they say,
    owning your own labor is not the way,

    Before long thing are out of control,

    my 6 year old son started a business and grew a watermellon,
    The fuckin USDA called him a fellon.

    Hayek and Friedman are ok for sellouts, but they meekly supported the fed.

    rothbard, mises would would rather shoot themselves in the head.

    Don’t forget my old school ya’ll,
    We wouldn’t be so fucked up if more people read Bastiat’s “The Law”

    It’s short and it’s easy to read,
    but it drops more knowledge than Machiaveli on speed.

    The next time C.O. tells you to read Keynes, say “I already did and he’s a shit stain.”

  61. Where’s the funk, y’all?

  62. Hoover was one of those men who was good at everything he tried except being president. He might have been a good president for the period 1921-29, but obviously not for the term he served.

    John Quincy Adams is another one who was good except when he was president.

  63. Wah! You guys aren’t playing nice! I’m telling the teacher!

  64. Syd Henderson,

    It’s because the president are controlled…much in the way described in “Phillip Dru Admintrator”…the author knew how it was done becasue he was Wilson’s Handler….Mandell House

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