Editor's Note: The following post has been reposted with the author's permission from the Foundation for Economic Education's website, where it originally appeared.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once cautioned newcomers to learn from those who held the same positions before. “Try to make original mistakes rather than needlessly repeating theirs,” he said.
Was Hoover an Innocent Bystander?
Harry Kazianis should have taken Rumsfeld’s advice before writing this annoying paragraph in his April 2, 2020 commentary at Fox News:
The rapidly worsening pandemic is shaping up as the defining challenge of the Trump presidency. Future historians will judge if Trump should be viewed like President Herbert Hoover or President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in meeting the challenge. While Hoover is generally blamed for not doing enough to fight the Great Depression, Roosevelt is generally credited with ending it.
To his credit, Kazianis doesn’t claim that this view is his own considered opinion. He offers no evidence he has researched the topic himself. He simply implies it’s a common view. That’s still an offense, only slightly less sinful than knowingly fobbing off falsehoods as truth. It’s how lies and errors become institutionalized.
In Great Myths of the Great Depression, I showed that not even Franklin Roosevelt believed that Herbert Hoover was innocent, inactive, or a bystander. In his 1932 campaign for the presidency, FDR assailed Hoover for “presiding over the greatest taxing and spending administration” in American history. FDR’s running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, declared that Hoover was “leading the country down the path to socialism.”
Roosevelt and Garner criticized the Hoover administration for jacking up tariffs to record highs, as well for more than doubling federal income tax rates. Upon assuming office in March 1933, FDR mostly followed Hoover’s example and prolonged the Depression with harmful schemes of his own.
FDR’s own Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, declared this:
We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work…I say after eight years of this administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started, and an enormous debt to boot!
The “Hoover did nothing and FDR saved us” fairy tale originated with statist media and historians intent upon advancing an ideological agenda. Fake news, fake history—not the first time or the last time both have been employed in the service of state worship.
Arthur Schlesinger, among the worst culprits, smeared small-government President Calvin Coolidge with deliberate distortions aimed at making people think he too helped cause the Great Depression. If you want to empower government elitists to “plan” an economy, you have to get people to think that small government is bad and big government is good; since the evidence for that is scant at best, you just make it up if truth means little to you.
So Mr. Kazianis, the next time you casually miseducate Americans about the Hoover-Roosevelt years, please come up with something that’s at least original if not factually correct.
Meantime, here are some helpful sources to improve anyone’s understanding of that era:
- New Deal or Raw Deal: How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America by Burton W. Folsom
- "Great Myths of the Great Depression" by Lawrence W. Reed
- "The First Government Bailouts: The Story of the RFC" by Burton W. Folsom
- "The Politically-Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal" (reviewed by Raymond Keating)
- "The Real Questions You Should Ask Your Economics Professor" by Lawrence W. Reed
- "The Smoot-Hawley Tariff and the Great Depression" by Theodore Phalan, Deema Yazigi and Thomas Rustici
- "Myth: FDR Was Elected in 1932 on a Platform to Plan the Economy" by Lawrence W. Reed
- "FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression" by Burton W. Folsom and Jim Powell
- "The Great Crash and Depression, 90 Years Later" by Lawrence W. Reed
- "Franklin Roosevelt and the Greatest Economic Myth of the 20th Century" by Burton W. Folsom