Herbert Hoover: Midwife of the Great Depression

Herbert HooverWhat you learned at school:  Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression by being a typical Republican who sat on his hands, doing nothing, while letting people starve.  Franklin D. Roosevelt rode to the rescue, creating all sorts of government welfare programs and mandating all sorts of business practices that saved America long enough for the socialist experience of WWII to give the economy the final boost it needed to come back roaring in the 1950s.

The real story:  Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression by meddling in the economy, rather than letting the free market repair itself.  Franklin D. Roosevelt worsened the problem terribly, so much so that 1937 — five years into his presidency — was the worst year of the Depression.  WWII definitely saved the economy at home by putting every one to work, and by kick-starting industries that were able to produce consumer goods after the war.  Thankfully, Eisenhower mostly left them alone.

Here’s a video about the Hoover part of the real story:

I also recommend Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man for the whole story (which you can also get in a graphic edition).

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  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Herbert Hoover was a card-carrying (assuming they passed out cards) Progressive, and proud of it.  And you’re completely correct that he got the Great Depression going with his interference in the private sector, with taxes, the Smoot-Hawley tariff, etc.
    If you want to see what a free-market response to a downturn looks like, as well as the results that follow, all you have to do is go back and check the post-WWI recession and how it was handled during the Harding-Coolidge administration…..remember the “Roaring Twenties”?
    Ike Eisenhower is going to be remembered more and more as a fine President, mostly because he refused to use the government to mess things up during his Administration. 
    And I second your recommendation of Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man…..I bought and read the original book.  I’ve got the graphic edition…and find it a bit of a puzzle.  I’d love to hear from someone else who’s read it……

    • Murray Lawrence

      Earl: I also went through some rough patches in the graphic edition, but I loved the sense of intimacy in the  illustrations combined with the words all the way through. At the end, I realized that I should have read Shlaes’ time lines and bios first instead of just relying on my good but still rough sense of the history of the times. I am particularly drawn to Will Eisner’s graphic histories, both biographical (Into the Storm) and his final work, a graphic history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Many of the scenes in The Forgotten Man, especially of rain and snow in cityscapes, were Eisner-like in look and feel.  My second read will go a lot more smoothly than the first, but I could hardly put the book down even on my first go-round.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    War is good for the economy , assuming you don’t lose your generations.
    That’s why the LEft starts wars in Africa and the world so often.

  • Mike Devx

    I believe that some credit has to be given to FDR and Truman as well.  (But I could be wrong, and if so, let me know!)
    FDR was a horrible Statist for at least his first six years.  But there came a point – due to terror of what the Germans were accomplishing, and the growing threat to the US itself, when they looked at the collapsed state of the American military, and FDR decided to build “The Arsenal Of Democracy”.  No troops for Europe, but plenty, plenty of material aid.
    To accomplish that, FDR jettisoned the New Deal and sidelined most of his Statists, and put about four Big Business Guys in charge of building America’s “Arsenal Of Democracy”.   FDR’s Statists howled with a rabid, frenzied fury, but for the most part he did not listen.  And his efforts – from what I’ve read – were an incredible success.  It was a combination of State direction and free market frenzy, if such a thing is possible.  The techniques of mass production and assembly-line production were used across many more industries than had been tried before.
    If Obama had been in charge, and not FDR, it would not have happened.  The “Arsenal Of Democracy” would have ended up being a couple of cheerleaders chanting, “Rah! Rah! Gooooo… England!”   Normandy would not have been tried or would have utterly failed.  And we would likely have lost the war, and be speaking German now, those of us who survived the Nazi mass slaughter of tens of millions.
    Truman did not interrupt very much as WWII ended.  And by 1947-1948, American Prosperity was undergoing a simply enormous boom.  The Statists never really got back in charge after Roosevelt did his 180, and fully supported Big Business/Little Business’ push for the Arsenal.  It really took until the 60’s until the Statists began to regain control.
    As I said, let me know if I’m wrong about this.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    It is true that FDR chose to create the “Arsenal of Democracy” in a manner that was less centrally-controlled than his advisors mostly wanted; also true that he put people in key positions who were not necessarily aligned with him politically. (Most notably Bill Knudson of GM.)
    An interesting recent book which I’ve just read, “Arsenal of Democracy,” by A J Baime, is focused specifically on Ford Motor Company’s activities during the war period…another good book is the memoir of Ford production leader Charles Sorensen, who was the primary force behind the Willow Run bomber plant.  Both books give great credit to Edsel Ford, who is now mostly remembered only as the namesake of a failed automobile.
    See my post about the Willow Run plant here.

    • lee

      I’d been waxing almost hysterical over on Facebook about saving the Willow Run Plant. I’d send in little bits of what I could afford every month. It was such a relief when I got the Big Thank You from them.

      • lee

        Just went the link and they’re still short! They still need some moolah. Sending out another payment today…

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Come On, David and Lee!!  Don’t leave us in limbo!
    Did they get that last $2,000,000.00 to save the Willow Run plant?!?

    • lee

      Last I looked (earlier today) they needed $700,000. Not to o bad!

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Looks like the effort to save Willow Run has basically succeeded, although additional funds will be needed and contributions will be very welcome.  See their site here.
    The intent is to focus the museum on aviation history, WWII history, relevant social history, and science + technology….I hope they will also included exhibits about the history of American manufacturing, from the power looms of New England (design stolen from the Brits, by the way) to interchangeable parts and advanced machine tools to the Ford assembly line and Willow Run.

  • jj

    FDR ends up being, all unintentionally of course, the poster boy for why the big government progressive idea doesn’t work.  It was all fine and good fun up to a point, but the minute there was serious outside pressure – and a war looming, for God’s sake! – well, can’t screw around any more: now we have to be serious.  The 1930s-era Clintons and Obamas got tossed right off the back of the boat, because we need the damn thing to function, and we need it to do so right now!  Amazing how a genuine priority sweeps the progressive BS right off the table and into the dust-bin.  Time for serious people to get serious, and it’s endlessly amazing how the liberals who worship at the feet of FDR never seem to twig to that part of his ‘legacy.’  They only want to talk about him through about late 1939; they don’t like the ‘gearing-up-for-war’ part, because it makes nonsense out of what went before.
    He at least recognized that it was nonsense and had to be jettisoned.  The ones we have today don’t seem capable of that.

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  • Murray Lawrence

    P.S. The Soviet influence, which runs through the earlier sections of The Forgotten Man, is central to Diana West’s American Betrayal, a remarkable study of the consequences of FDR’s recognition of the Soviet regime in 1933. 

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Murray:  I was also really drawn into the graphics of the book…they are SO well done!
    I read the original edition of The Forgotten Man several years ago, and either my memory has really faded, or the graphic edition is quite different in emphasis.  I don’t remember anything CLOSE to all of the Soviet Russia stuff in the book….alternatively, the Schechter chicken shop seemed to play a smaller part in the graphic edition than in the original.  Of course, as I say, that may be bad memory.
    I agree about the timeline and the bios — it might have been a good idea to put those at the start of the book, rather than at the end. 
    I’m going to review those a bit, and then give the graphic edition another try.