Skip to comments.Yes, Herbert Hoover was a "government must do something" progressive
Posted on 07/24/2012 2:12:53 PM PDT by ProgressingAmerica
All the chatter that Herbert Hoover was a "hands off", "do nothing" kind of guy is simply false. Something that I've heard author Amity Shlaes repeately say about Hoover is that he liked to be the smartest guy in the room, and because he was an engineer, he might very well have been. This video explains some of this, but it goes into the depression itself which is not within the scope of what I'm focused in on.
Hoover, as an engineer, was a believer in 'scientific management', which has it's roots in the efficiency movement and Frederick Winslow Taylor. If you want to find the words of this kind of progressive, you have to look in engineering journals. Due to the timing of when Hoover came onto the scene in a major way, large portions of his words are behind a firewall of copyright, but not all.
In a publication called "Industrial Management", Hoover wrote the following:
Second: There was no advance planning to provide against this contingency, which it was obvious from the day of the armistice would be upon us in short order. We found it necessary to mobilize the whole energies of the Nation to meet the direct problems of the war, and it follows that we should have mobilized the energies of the Nation to meet this aftermath deliberately created by our war activities.
This is in reference to Wilson's efforts to centrally plan while WW1 was raging on. Keep in mind, this was written in 1920, right after the war and before the raging 20's. Instead of rejecting centralized planning, Hoover believes that the planning should continue, and housing should be the target. He continued:
I believe the Government has a part that it must play in this. While I have no belief in Government execution of such things I do believe we need some Federal authority empowered to undertake this movement of co-operation. Already many isolated Chambers of Commerce, building associations, and labor organizations have gotten together and are doing constructive work in remedying this situation. Their experience affords a sound basis upon which general steps can be taken. While I am no believer in extending the bureaucratic functions of the Government I am a strong believer in the Government intervening to induce active co operation in the community itself. Furthermore, I believe we must at least examine the question of governmental assistance in credits to home builders on some plan similar to the Farm Loan Board.
He's threading a very thin line here, but ultimately we know what ended up happening under his presidency. There was stimulus. There were public works projects. He did raise taxes and grow government. In a speech in 1924, he said the following:
I believe we now for the first time have the method at hand for voluntarily organized determination of standards and their adoption. I would go further; I believe we are in the presence of a new era in the organization of industry and commerce in which, if properly directed, lie forces pregnant with infinite possibilities of moral progress. I believe that we are, almost unnoticed, in the midst of a great revolution--or perhaps a better word, a transformation in the whole super-organization of our economic life. We are passing from a period of extremely individualistic action into a period of associational activities.
Organization? Revolution? Transformation? I've heard similar things to this in recent times. Calvin Coolidge, who was a conservative said of Hoover in 1928:
That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad!
No doubt why Coolidge considered the advice bad.
FDR for the most part, continued Hoover’s policies under a different name.
FDR just had far far far better Public Relations. Had Hoover been more “personable” he would have won another term no doubt.
The longer I live the more I believe that Calvin Coolidge was the greatest president of the last hundred years.
It takes a great deal of restraint for a president to do nothing.
President Reagan placed Coolidge’s portrait next to Jefferson’s in the Cabinet Room because he had so much respect for what Cal accomplished and how he did it.
Actually the chattering classes confuse Herbert Hoover with Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Both of whom really were “hands off”,”do nothing" type of guys. And the economy when Harding died and when Coolidge left office prove it.
Why do you think the 20s were called “The Roaring Twenties”?
Then again the chattering classes for a long time have confused Republicans with Conservatives.
I think a key part of what Hoover missed in 1920 was that the World War ended much faster than anyone expected.
Much planning in mid-late 1918 had been geared towards the anticipated 1919 spring offensive...to give an idea of the expected scale of the operation, the equipment and munitions stocked up for the offensive lasted all the way to the early stages of World War II. The collapse of Germany in late 1918 hit almost everybody out of the blue, and left a lot of manufacturers in the lurch as their war contracts were summarily cancelled.
Moreover, as applied to the means of production, science and technology generated extraordinary gains and created not just robber barons but also a new, rising middle class and an easing of the burdens of poverty. Talented, successful engineers, businessmen, and managers like Hoover took to politics in a public spirited manner and seemed to be leading the country and the world to a new era of affluence and ease.
Far horizons began to open up to continued human progress. The sky itself and even a seemingly magical force -- electricity -- yielded to science and commercial development. Who but the old and temperamentally stodgy would not be a "progressive" in those respects?
I am sure that there are libertarians who can explain how, on a voluntary basis, it is theoretically possible that toxic and tainted medications can be banned from the market, inspections of meat packers and restaurants carried out, and roads paved and canals, railroads, ports, airports, water and sewers, and other utilities built -- all without regulation, taxation, and eminent domain. Yet, historically, that is not how it was done, with Americans instead making recourse to traditional state and local government powers to make essential reforms and infrastructure improvements -- and the people who did it called themselves "progressives."
The success of such measures though invited intellectual and political excess, with academics like Wilson and action oriented personalities like Teddy Roosevelt leading the way. They extended the Progressive critique to the class and power structure of American society, to the rampant corruption of American politics, to our system of government, and to traditional limitations on federal power. Along with a heavy dose of Marxism and class envy, this reformist instinct to use government power remains at the heart of American Progressivism and continues to draw the support of many well meaning people.
Although Hoover's administration was progressive and activist in the context of the era, unlike other Progressives than and now, he was not hostile to traditional America and did not seek or desire a remaking of America's constitutional order or of American society. When Progressives of all stripes are collected and categorized, Hoover, even if judged on the basis of his record as President, is most accurately placed on the Right, barely even a Progressive in comparison with the others.
Hoover's worst mistakes as President were to drop the tax cutting, free market Paul Mellon as Treasury Secretary and to ramp up federal taxes and spending in an effort to remedy the 1929 stock market collapse and ensuing recession. The Treasury and the Fed then crashed the domestic economy by triggering a massive fall in the supply and velocity of money, which they compounded by massive gold accumulation that, along with a similar policy by France, collapsed the world supply of gold available to act as high powered money.
Thus was the Great Depression made -- from the errors of the smartest, most forward looking men of the day. If History was just, that would have been the end of Progressivism. As it was, as the Depression ground on, the sense of desperation and of the failure of the existing order empowered not just Progressives but virtually the entire Left, in the US and throughout the developed world.
In retirement, Hoover, to his credit, recoiled from FDR's excesses and failures. Hoover developed a keen appreciation for the virtues of limited government and became sharply isolationist. Behind the scenes, his views contributed greatly to conservatism and the modern Republican Party.