Poor Herbert Hoover. Despite being a wealthy engineer and a philanthropist who led a food relief effort in Europe after World War I saving tens of thousand of lives, he became the Democrats’ whipping boy for several decades, because for decades historians asserted Hoover’s laissez-faire policies were responsible for the greatest economic calamity in American history, the Great Depression.
But as Murray Rothbard reminds us in his insightful essay, “Herbert Hoover and the Myth of Laissez-Faire, “It is one of the great ironies of historiography that the founder of every single one of the features of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was to become enshrined among historians and the general public as the last stalwart defender of laissez-faire.” Rothbard also points out that Hoover as Secretary of Commerce for eight years during the 1920s continually advocated for “enlightened” government intervention. So when Hoover, who never held elective office before he won the presidency in a landslide (1928), confronted the inevitable stock market crash that began in October 1929 and economic downturn to correct the “excesses” of the 1920s easy money policies, his interventionist mindset kicked into high gear.
Even one of the architects (Rexford Guy Tugwell) of FDR’s policies acknowledged, “We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.”