Herbert Hoover: Father of the New Deal

Steven Horwitz

St. Lawrence University

September 29, 2011

Cato Institute Briefing Paper, No. 122, September 2011

Politicians and pundits portray Herbert Hoover as a defender of laissez faire governance whose dogmatic commitment to small government led him to stand by and do nothing while the economy collapsed in the wake of the stock market crash in 1929. In fact, Hoover had long been a critic of laissez faire. As president, he doubled federal spending in real terms in four years. He also used government to prop up wages, restricted immigration, signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, raised taxes, and created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation — all interventionist measures and not laissez faire. Unlike many Democrats today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisers knew that Hoover had started the New Deal. One of them wrote, "When we all burst into Washington...we found every essential idea [of the New Deal] enacted in the 100-day Congress in the Hoover administration itself."

Hoover's big-spending, interventionist policies prolonged the Great Depression, and similar policies today could do similar damage. Dismantling the mythical presentation of Hoover as a "do-nothing" president is crucial if we wish to have a proper understanding of what did and did not work in the Great Depression so that we do not repeat Hoover's mistakes today.

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Date posted: November 19, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Horwitz, Steven, Herbert Hoover: Father of the New Deal (September 29, 2011). Cato Institute Briefing Paper, No. 122, September 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1961727

Contact Information

Steven Horwitz (Contact Author)
St. Lawrence University ( email )
One Romoda Drive
Canton, NY 13617
United States
315 229 5731 (Phone)
315 229 5819 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://myslu.stlawu.edu/~shorwitz
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