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Reed’s classic piece on Hoover, FDR, and the Great Depression

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Brief excerpts from Lawrence Reed’s classic 1981 article on the Great Depression, published in The Freeman and now republished by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (which I just received in the mail)…

Reed divides the GD into four phases:

To properly understand the events of the time, it is appropriate to view the Great Depression as not one, but four consecutive depressions rolled into one. Professor Hans Sennholz has labeled these four “phases” as follows: the business cycle; the disintegration of the world economy; the New Deal; and the Wagner Act. The first phase explains why the crash of 1929 happened in the first place; the other three show how government intervention kept the economy in a stupor for over a decade.

Then, Reed deals with myths about Hoover as laissez-faire and Roosevelt delivering what he promised…

Did Hoover really subscribe to a “hands off the economy,” free-market philosophy? His opponent in the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt, didn’t think so. During the campaign, Roosevelt blasted Hoover for spending and taxing too much, boosting the national debt, choking off trade, and putting millions of people on the dole. He accused the president of “reckless and extravagant” spending, of thinking “that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible,” and of presiding over “the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history.” Roosevelt’s running mate, John Nance Garner, charged that Hoover was “leading the country down the path of socialism.” Contrary to the modern myth about Hoover, Roosevelt and Garner were absolutely right.

Can any serious scholar observe the Hoover administration’s massive economic intervention and, with a straight face, pronounce the inevitably deleterious effects as the fault of free markets?…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election in a landslide, collecting 472 electoral votes to just 59 for the incumbent Herbert Hoover. The platform of the Democratic Party whose ticket Roosevelt headed…called for a 25 percent reduction in federal spending, a balanced federal budget, a sound gold currency “to be preserved at all hazards,” the removal of government from areas that belonged more appropriately to private enterprise, and an end to the “extravagance” of Hoover’s farm programs. This is what candidate Roosevelt promised, but it bears no resemblance to what President Roosevelt actually delivered….

Reed’s wrap-up:

The genesis of the Great Depression lay in the inflationary monetary policies of the U.S. government in the 1920s. It was prolonged and exacerbated by a litany of political missteps: trade-crushing tariffs, incentive-sapping taxes, mind-numbing controls on production and competition, senseless destruction of crops and cattle, and coercive labor laws, to recount just a few. It was not the free market that produced twelve years of agony; rather, it was political bungling on a scale as grand as there ever was.

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Eric Schansberg Dr. Eric Schansberg is a Professor of Economics at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany where he has been on faculty for 17 years after earning his Ph.D. in Economics from Texas A&M University. Dr. Schansberg is the author of Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian's Guide to Politics and Public Policy, Poor Policy: How Government Harms the Poor. He is co-author of Thoroughly Equipped, a 21-month Discipleship Curriculum, and he is the editor of SchansBlog. Eric has been married to Tonia for 13 years and is the proud father of four boys—two by adoption and two the more conventional way. Their family is active in K-TAG—the Kentuckiana Trans-racial Adoption Group.

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