Hoover Blasts His Opponents
By Bryan Caplan
I would again call your attention to the fact
that with the Democratic victory in congressional elections of 1930,
their leaders promised to produce a program which would redeem this
country from the depression. No such program was produced until we were
well into the winter of 1932.
Then he enumerates the Democrats’ top 19 policy blunders – counting both the past actions of the Democratic House, and the promised blunders of FDR:
1. Undermining protectionism by trying to turn the Tariff Commission into a “mere statistical body”:
They passed the Collier bill, providing
for destruction of the Tariff Commission by reducing it again to a mere
statistical body controlled by the Congress. Had they succeeded, the
relief which you so sorely require from competition with countries of
depreciated currencies would today be impossible.
2. Undermining protectionism by pushing for a free-trade conference:
attempted to instruct me by legislation to call an international
conference through which the aid of foreign nations would be requested
to lower American tariffs, by which the independence of the United
States in control of its domestic policies was to placed in the hands
of an international body.
3. Undermining protectionism by pushing for reciprocal tariff cuts.
They passed an act instructing me to
negotiate reciprocal the result of which could only be to deprive some
locality of its protection for the benefit of another…
4. Spending too little on pensions:
They passed an omnibus pension bill with unworthy payments as an indication of their economical temper.
5. Passing an “inadequate patchwork revenue bill”:
They passed an inadequate patchwork revenue bill, the injustices of
which to different industries and groups must yet be remedied.
6. Reopening some Indian claims:
They passed Indian claims bills to reopen settlements 75 years old in
order to favor certain localities at the expense of the Public Treasury-
7. Passing a price stability/reflation bill:
They passed a bill instructing the Federal Reserve System and the
Treasury to fix prices at averages prevailing during the years 1921 to
1929 by constantly shifting the volume of currency and credit and thus
creation of every uncertainty to business and industry by a rubber
8. Fighting federal spending cuts:
They defeated a large part of the national
economy measure proposed by the administration by their refusal to
accept our recommendation, by reduction of ordinary expenditures from
$250 million to less than $50 million, a part of which we subsequently
rescued in the Senate.
9. Passing a wasteful public works bill.
They passed the Garner-Rainey
pork-barrel bill increasing expenditures by $1,200 million for
unnecessary nonproductive public works, purely for the benefit of
10. Passing the cash prepayment of the bonus:
They passed the cash prepayment of the
bonus calling for immediate expenditure of $2,300 million and for
actual increase in liabilities of the Federal Government over the
original act by $1,300 million. We stopped this bill, but it is still
on their political calendar.
11. Trying to inflate the currency.
They passed the provision for
the issuance of over $2,200 million of greenback currency, a reversion
to vicious practices already demonstrated in the last hundred years as
the most destructive to labor, agriculture, and business…
12. Passing the Rainey bill…
providing for direct personal banking for every conceivable purpose on
every conceivable security to everyone who wants money, and thus the
most destructive entry of the Government into private business in a
fashion that violates every principle of our Nation…
13. More support for wasteful government spending:
They injected an expenditure
of $322 million for entirely unnecessary purposes in time of great
emergency. The Democratic candidate complains daily that we do not
spend this money fast enough. It is part of his economic program.
14. Giving Hoover authority to cut government waste, then ignoring his recommendations:
The Congress passed proper authority to the Executive for
reorganization and elimination of useless Government commissions and
bureaus, but by refusing my recommendations for immediate action they
destroyed its usefulness for a long time to come and probably destroyed
15. Preaching a balanced budget, but practicing deficit finance:
The Democratic candidate eloquently urges
the balancing of the budget, but nowhere disavows these gigantic raids
on the Treasury, under which no budget can ever be balanced.
16. Advocating an impractical tree-planting program. (?!)
The Democratic candidate adds to this program
the proposal to plant a billion trees and thereby immediately employ a
million men, but the Secretary of Agriculture has shown that the trees
available to plant will give them a total of less than 3 days’ work.
17. Failure to give a transparent plan for farmer relief.
The Democratic candidate promises to relieve agriculture with a 6-point
program which amounts to envisaging to distressed farmers a great
structure of agricultural relief, but he has refused to submit it to
debate. He has disclosed no details of the plan except six methods by
which he can escape from the promise.
18. Favoring wasteful public works spending.
The candidate has
promised the immediate inauguration of a program of self-liquidating
public works, such as utilization of our water resources, flood
control, and land reclamation, to provide “employment for all surplus
labor at all times.” That is contained in a letter addressed to all the
unemployed in the United States which has had enormous circulation. To
employ the whole of the unemployed in the United States would exceed in
cost $9 billion a year. These works are unavailable. If the works were
there, the cost would destroy the credit of the Government…
19. Support for tariff reduction.
The Democratic Party makes its
contribution to the emergency by proposing to reduce the tariff to a
“competitive tariff for revenue.” Their candidate states that he
supports this promise 100 percent. A competitive tariff today would be
ruinous to American agriculture and industry.
Out of these 19 complaints, five contradict the “laissez-faire” Hoover stereotype. Four of these (#1, #2, #3, and #19) involve the Democrats’ free-trade tendencies; the other (#4) is the Democrats’ opposition to larger pensions.
Two of the complaints are hard to classify. Hoover opposes the Democrats’ revenue bill (#5) because of its “injustice,” but it’s hard to tell what he means by that. Hoover’s objects to FDR’s farm program (#17) because of its vagueness, not its size.
Still, I have to admit that Hoover’s other 12 complaints basically fit the historians’ stereotype. The upshot is that if you judge Hoover for what he was against, instead of what he was for, you could easily reach the standard view about him. In fact, if you can roughly boil Hoover’s case against the Democrats down to “They favor Big Government and free trade.”
In context, though, Hoover doesn’t oppose the Democrats for being interventionists. He opposes them for being the wrong kind of interventionist. When Hoover spends piles of federal money, he
sings its praises; but when the opposition advocates more of the same,
he decries them as irresponsible. Hoover claims that his public works will pay for themselves; but when FDR says the same, he scoffs. Milton Friedman would not have been impressed.