Wednesday, May 11, 2016

So really, was Hoover an Interventionist or not?

I was watching some online education videos about history. They were covering the Great Depression and kept referencing Hoover's lack of interventionist policies. The story, for historians, is that Hoover did nothing in response to the Great Depression. And from what I've gathered, this is the standard view for historians.

This is not what libertarian leaning economists think of Hoover. Their story is that Hoover was FDR light. And Hoovers interventionist policies were very much in line with the forthcoming New Deal.

I usually approach these things with a strong presumption that the experts are right. And in this case the relevant experts very much seem to be historians. What Hoover did is a historical question. Whether it worked is an economics question.

And then I research the reasons historians think this and I come up nil. On the other hand the liber-economists offer lots of reasons, including a sharp rise in federal expenditure, and some pieces of very interventionist legislation that no economists will defend like the Davis-Bacon actNorris-LaGuardia Act, and the Smoot Hawley Tariff.

The liber-economists will also site Hoover's autobiography where he talks about there being two modes of thought, one laissez faire (let it be), and the other interventionist. He says that he chose the interventionist policy. Of course, this could be just Hoover revising his own history well after the fact when interventionism was much more popular.

But then when I break from the libertarian filter and try to read Hoover for myself, I very quickly come by sections of speeches from before the Great Depression like this,
Nor do I wish to be misinterpreted as believing that the United States is a free-for-all and devil-take-the-hindmost. The very essence of equality of opportunity and of American individualism is that there shall be no domination by any group or [monopoly] in this republic.... It is no system of laissez faire
 Sorry Hoover, but people are going to interpret you that way even though you explicitly state that you do not wish to be interpreted that way.

So the authority of the topic goes to historians, but every reason I can come up with contradicts them.

Maybe I'm misreading what historians think. It could be that some historians are just teaching an older version of history that newer historians have since revised. So the split isn't so much between economists and historians, but older history and modern history.

Maybe what historians mean when they say Hoover was a non-interventionist guy was that he was not interventionist in a particular way. He did a lot to fix the great depression, but very little to cushion the blow of the great depression with relief programs. Or they believe that Hoover tried to fix the great depression with indirect means, through businesses, rather than doing it directly with government make-work programs. Overall, yes Hoover wanted the government to do a lot, but maybe not in the forms of relief or direct job creation.

Could be, or it could be that historians just like the Hoover was a free marketer story because they're predominantly liberals. That ideology works with pro-market policies pre-FDR correlating with things getting really bad. The ideology could still work with Hoover being an interventionist, but it's less convenient because the president having everything to do with national outcomes fallacy is so intuitive.

It might sound like I favor the last explanation, simply because I'm not a liberal, but I do not. It really could be that I'm missing something else.