Whether you love the New Deal or loathe it, its policies were not entirely new. FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, set the precedent. History remembers him as a laissez faire president; a do-nothing who simply let the Great Depression happen. This requires an odd definition of “laissez faire” and an even stranger understanding of “do-nothing” to actually be true.
A new Cato paper from St. Lawrence University economics professor Steve Horwitz takes a closer look:
In fact, Hoover had long been a critic of laissez faire. As president, he doubled federal spending in real terms in four years. He also used government to prop up wages, restricted immigration, signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, raised taxes, and created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation—all interventionist measures and not laissez faire. Unlike many Democrats today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisers knew that Hoover had started the New Deal. One of them wrote, “When we all burst into Washington … we found every essential idea [of the New Deal] enacted in the 100-day Congress in the Hoover administration itself.”