October 15, 2011 8:48PM

The Hoover Myth Marches On

In the New York Times today, columnist Joseph Nocera quotes a book published in 1940 on Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression:

Herbert Hoover was “leery of any direct governmental offensive against the Depression,” writes Allen. “So he stood aside and waited for the healing process to assert itself, as according to the hallowed principles of laissez‐​faire economics it should.”

OK, let’s go to the tape. In a new Cato study economist Steve Horwitz notes what Hoover really did:

  • He almost doubled federal spending from 1929 to 1933.
  • He expanded public works projects to “create jobs.”
  • He pressured businesses not to cut wages, even in the face of deflation.
  • He signed the Davis‐​Bacon Act and the Norris‐​LaGuardia acts to prop up unions.
  • He signed the Smoot‐​Hawley tariff.
  • He created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
  • He proposed and signed the largest peacetime tax increase in
    American history.

And that’s why FDR brains‐​trusters Rexford Guy Tugwell and Raymond Moley acknowledged later that Hoover “really invented” all the devices of the New Deal. Frederick Lewis Allen might not have recognized that in 1940, but Joseph Nocera should. And if we don’t want to relive the Great Depression, as Nocera worries, then we’d better learn what didn’t work in 1929 – 33 any better than it worked in 1933 – 39.