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August 26th, 2009 5:05 pm
The Curious Case of Herbert Hoover
Posted by Print

President Hoover

There has been a lot of talk in the media (here, here and here) about how Herbert Hoover was a great miser and should have spent his way out of the economic downturn like Obama is attempting to do.  The myth might be as old as Hoover’s administration: Hoover was a free-market Republican who let Americans suffer instead of attempting government intervention.

False.  It’s hard to believe that a quick search through our own budget data proves that Hoover was more of Keynesian, someone who spent plenty and raised taxes in his vain attempt to “prime” the U.S. economy toward a resurgence.

Reviewing budget numbers from the White House’s own budget, we see that Hoover drastically increased the size and scope of government.  When Hoover arrived in the White House in 1929, he inherited a surplus of $734 million (back when that was real money).  After he left in 1933, the surplus turned into a $2.6 billion deficit.

Of course, some of this decline was due to lower revenues as a result of the depression, but looking at the outlays during his tenure and you’ll see a massive increase in the size of the federal budget, partly with the help of a Republican Congress as well.  From 1929 to 1933, Hoover increased federal outlays from $3.1 billion to approximately $4.6 billion, a 48% increase. From 1931 to 1932, outlays surged 30%.  Yes, Hoover was a real miser, a free-market fiend who hated spending the money of hard-working taxpayers.

To put Hoover’s 48% increase in perspective, progressives often assailed President Bush as a free-market disciple who refused to spend money on levies, the poor, or the uninsured.  During Bush’s tenure, estimated federal outlays surged 57%, even more than Hoover and LBJ’s Great Society (approximately 50%).

So, the next time you hear someone say that a runaway free-market caused the Great Depression and our current crisis, just remind them that Bush made LBJ look like Uncle Scrooge and Hoover drove federal expenditures faster than President Clinton.  Old rumors die slowly but this is one that needs to end now before we continue to perpetuate even more big-spending government boondoggles.

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