Little Hoovers should ask: Are we in a Second Great Depression?

Stalking America and haunting the shadows of every capitol building in America today are people who would profess, if asked, that they fashion themselves in the mold of Herbert Hoover.  Little Hoovers, we might call them.  Unlike Hoover, and unlike the friendly “Little Hoover” phrase we might apply to them, the welfare of America is not their concern.  We might worry about that.

President Harry Truman in 1947 appointed former President Herbert Hoover to head a commission on how to reform the federal government.  I do not know of a high school history text that even mentions this effort today.

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Hoover’s commission made 273 recommendations that were taken to heart, then taken to Congress.  Many were enacted into law.

Several states followed the example, as in Utah and famously in California. These groups were often called “Little Hoover” commissions.  In no case that I have found did any of these commissions ever recommend stripping union collective bargaining agreements out of any situation.

But again, this history is mostly lost.  Hoover is remembered today for his failure to stop the Great Depression, for his seeming unwillingness to do what was necessary in great enough effort to relieve the nation’s serious hurts.  That’s too bad, really.

Herbert Hoover was not opposed to government action to fix the depression on most counts.  In his correspondence with Franklin Roosevelt, especially after Roosevelt replaced him in the presidency, Hoover often complained that Roosevelt’s actions were in the right vein, but too much.

We should remember this.

Are we in a Great Depression?  Economically, technically, our nation is in “recovery.”

Realistically, our nation is teetering on the brink of great financial disaster.  Sadly, most people ignore the lessons of history, and consequently, actions of many governmental units today seem driven to push the nation over the brink.  Home prices have not recovered.  Millions are out of work — millions of highly-trained workers cannot find jobs with pay adequate to support a family.

We appear not to have learned these lessons that should not have been forgotten:

  • Stimulus from the government creates demand, which fuels manufacturing recovery, and more jobs.  Tax cuts, such as Hoover’s 1932 tax cut for the wealthy, drive us deeper into recession.
  • Labor unions form vital components of a healthy manufacturing segment; they stand up for worker health and safety, for fair pay and work conditions that spur productivity.  When we ignore or fight unions, we damage economic productivity.  When we work with unions, we make progress.
  • Cracking the whip may get a temporary reaction from workers that looks good.  In the long run, if not immediately, such actions damage productivity and creativity.
  • Unions do not make the big financial decisions that cripple industry.  Unions don’t decide the products to be produced.  Unions cannot gamble a company’s future on ill-advised acquisitions or switches in corporate focus, usually.  Union demands for restrooms improve the sanitation and health of our food supplies.  Union demands for limited work hours lead to productive workers, better safety, and better products.
  • In almost every case where foreign corporations compete successfully with U.S. companies on high-tech and high-skill jobs, and take away U.S. jobs, the government of that foreign nation provides health care for all citizens, so that health care costs are not a cost of business.  In the case of most industrial nations, foreign pension laws are much stiffer than U.S. laws, stiffer in protecting generous benefits for pensioners.
  • All workers benefit when unions gain, traditionally.  It wasn’t Andrew Carnegie who invented the two-week vacation.
  • Workers can do more for consumers when they are treated well and listened to by company management.

I’m depressed at the nasty actions in so many places, in so many ways, designed to thwart progress to good ends, and instead drive our nation into mediocrity.  I find it difficult to post when there is so much disaster looming in so many places.

When political movements from the right go after one group with hammer and tongs, we might do well to remember the old, wise words.  With a full-on awareness of Godwin’s Law, we might do well to remember the words attributed to Martin Niemöller,  and the moral of that story:

“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.”

What has Scott Walker done for anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year, anyway?  So you should ask:  What has Scott Walker ever done for you, or your family?  If the bargaining rights of any union are removed, anywhere in the U.S., who will speak up for your vacation, pension, health care benefits, and job safety?  OSHA?  Are you sure?

Update: It’s not paranoia when they are coming after you with more ill-will than you can imagine — see this Mother Jones update. It appears some people didn’t learn anything from the Tucson shootings.


Cover of Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism:  How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century

A book you should buy: Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century

10 Responses to Little Hoovers should ask: Are we in a Second Great Depression?

  1. […] but if Texas teachers don’t stand up for education and Texas kids, who is left to do it?  Niemöller is dead.  Who is […]


  2. Jim says:

    Hi David!

    No worries! Hoover did cut taxes…dramatically…but before 1929. It was this tax cut that, arguably, helped bring on the Great Depression. Or, if not, it certainly made quick recovery less likely.

    You ask, “How does raising taxes get you out of the depression or stimulate economic growth or investment?”

    That’s a great question. And a complicated answer. Increasing taxes on the poor, the working poor and, arguably, small businesses only furthers economic recession or depression. However, raising taxes on those most able to absorb the increase definitely stimulates growth. This is money that will otherwise be invested offshore or tax-sheltered in the Caymans or Switzerland. Putting it to work for the American citizen by launching infrastructure projects, creating jobs or even helping lower income people so they can spend more freely is clearly a boon to the economy and a helpful prescription for recession or depression.

    At least so go the ruminations of people like Bob Reich, James Galbraith and Paul Krugman. I suspect they are all substantially smarter than I am, at least on matters economic. ;-)


  3. David Xavier says:

    Jim, a typo … Hoover of course raised taxes. But now it is I who is confused after all you stated that Hoover cut taxes during the depression and the original blog article states clearly that Hoover cut taxes to the rich in 1932?

    Jim and Nicky

    How does raising taxes get you out of the depression or stimulate economic growth or investment?…it does seem counter intuitive. The depression continued and then dipped again as FDR ratcheted up the taxes and basically expanded Hoover’s policies , which seems to suggest that higher taxes are not the solution.


  4. Jim says:

    Good morning, David!

    I am a little confused by your post. You open with the assertion that President Hoover did not raise income taxes. Then you quote an article — presumably you clipped wiki — stating exactly the opposite.

    Which is it?

    Of course he raised taxes. On income and almost everything else. He signed the act into law. And he was right to do it. The only problem is that it came too late to undo the damage his radical tax cuts for the wealthy had done.

    Just trying to clarify what you are trying to say. He either signed the RA/1932 or he did not.

    Thanks so much for weighing in!



  5. Nick K says:

    Oh and apparently David also thinks we shouldn’t have fought World War 2.

    Hm I wonder why.

    Oh wait…David is a member of a right wing political party that has been taken over by far right wing nutjobs. And the fascists were a far right political party. And as Benito Mussolini once said about Fascism: Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.

    Hm…gee I guess that answers that. And that also answers why the Republicans hate the middle class and workers so much…because we’re the last ones standing in the way of their quest to turn the United States from a democratic Republic to an corporate oligarchy/plutocracy.

    After all..if labor can’t organize then labor has no power to stop them.

    Sorry, David, your side’s concern with the unions isn’t that the unions are somehow busting budgets…its that the unions force your side to treat the middle class as something more important than paid serfs.


  6. Nick K says:

    David writes:
    Republicians do not want collective bargaining because collusion between certain politicians and their Union paymasters result in many benefits that become future liabilities that need to be funded and the only way to do that is raising taxes, debt or both. Raising taxes stymies investment and economic grow…which hurts other workers through additional taxes, and perhaps loss of employment through this lack of investment , and lack of other government investment in infrastructure – roads , parks , buildings and services.

    Gee funny….lowering taxes didn’t create economic growth nor did it stimulate investment. In fact the economy was doing far better with higher taxes before Bush got into office. And then there is the fact that the entire 1940’s-1970’s proves you wrong on your claim that higher taxes stymies economic growth and shuts down investment. You are aware that taxes on the rich were near 90% at that time right? And the economy, at least as far as the middle class getting a piece of the pie, has done shittier and shittier as taxes on the rich go down.

    And as for collusion with the unions…oh you mean like how collusion between Big Businesses and their paid slaves/servants in the Republican party is serving to destroy the middle class and **** everything up?

    Sorry, nothing you’ve said justifies the destruction of the public unions. Nor does it justify the destruction of collective bargaining. Oh and by the a general rule…public employees get paid less then their private sector counterparts.

    Sorry, despite your delusion to the contrary…public sector union pensions and health benefits didn’t cause Wisconsin’s supposed financial difficulties. Nor does it cause it anywhere else.

    But keep on spouting that right wing bullshit and lies all you want, David, but none of us here are stupid enough to believe you.

    Except of course Morgan.

    Why you seem bent on making sure you get economically less, David, I have no idea. But I guess like Morgan you’re an economic masochist.

    Quit scapegoating the unions, little one, you’re only going to screw yourself over by doing so.


  7. David Xavier says:

    Hoover did NOT raise income taxes – “The Revenue Act of 1932 (June 6, 1932, ch. 209, 47 Stat. 169) raised United States tax rates across the board, with the rate on top incomes rising from 25 percent to 63 percent. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15 percent.” Hoover was also was a protectionist and increased excise on goods coming into the country and he also tried to keep real wages high for those who had jobs which had a ruinous effect on unemployment.

    FDR proceeded double down on the above to fund the NEW DEAL ..all of which deepened and prolonged the depression , which ended with a war FDR desperately wanted to enter.

    As for unions , there is a difference between Public sector unions and the private sector unions. This distinction has not been made in the above post. Just ask what FDR had to say about allowing collective bargaining for public sector unions. And why is it the union movement ( 12% membership contry wide) is concentrated in the public sector? Because the taxpayer is funding it all.

    Republicians do not want collective bargaining because collusion between certain politicians and their Union paymasters result in many benefits that become future liabilities that need to be funded and the only way to do that is raising taxes, debt or both. Raising taxes stymies investment and economic grow…which hurts other workers through additional taxes, and perhaps loss of employment through this lack of investment , and lack of other government investment in infrastructure – roads , parks , buildings and services.

    The taxes fall disproportionately on the ( shrinking) middle class and small business as the poor don’t actually pay any taxes and the corporations and the real rich can either pass ontaxes or avoid them all together.

    ” Unions do not make the big financial decisions that cripple industry ” …. no they dictate ruinous entitlements to cripple State governments.


  8. Jim says:

    Hi James!

    I agree. Hoover is misunderstood and often directly blamed for the Great Depression when, in reality, he was arguably the most progressive of the so-called “robber baron” Presidents…with Harding and Coolidge before him. While I think it’s certainly fair to criticize his much too timid response to the Great Depression, Hoover would easily be judged a “Socialist” by today’s Tea Party crowd. Originally in his Presidency, he slammed shut a number of popular tax loopholes for the rich. He attempted to enact…but was defeated…meaningful tax cuts for the poor. The Hoover Dam, so named after his departure, was a major infrastructure project that conservatives of today would surely call “make-work pork barrel spending”. He was an excellect foreign policy President, from what I have read. The Hoover Plan was the START treaty of its day.

    The repatriation of Mexicans, including many who were actually American citizens, was well-intended but cruel and sometimes violent. That surely was not what the nation’s first Quaker President wished. It must be noted, too, that this jingoistic response to the presence of Mexicans in the U.S. was continued by FDR.

    Of course, his resistence to the dole was his — and the country’s — undoing. As was his administrations reversal on relatively (for a Republican) progressive tax law. Once Hoover cut taxes on the fabulously wealthy, the Depression deepened. Sound familiar? By the time taxes were raised again, the damage was done and the hole was deep, indeed.

    Smoot-Hawley was no success either…and even though I don’t consider myself a pure free-trader by any means…the memory of that catastrophe should at least remind us to proceed very slowly where tariff legislation is advanced.

    Hoover’s crackdown on the Bonus Boys was not forgotten after his term, nor should it have been. But if blame for the repressive, brutal clubbing of American war heroes can be directly blamed on General Douglas MacArthur, then Hoover deserves a good thump for not busting that tin-plated martinet down to the rank of private for disobeying the orders of his commander in chief.

    In his obligatory meeting with President-elect Roosevelt, Hoover begged the Democrat to retain the Gold Standard. Thankfully, Roosevelt told him to go pound sand. Amazing that we still have people like Ron and Rand Paul thinking this is a viable option.

    All that said, Hoover — in my opinion — is too easy a target for liberals. Harding and Coolidge probably did more to wreck the economy by being so absurdly pro-business and anti-worker. I’m not as informed as I ought to be about the Wilson Presidency, either…but I am guessing he was no peach. Hoover should be remembered most fondly for his post-presidency in which he oversaw a number of charitable and humanitarian efforts.

    All in all, if you asked someone to rank the worst “chain” of Presidents in U.S. history, the Taft-Wilson-Harding-Coolidge-Hoover run has to be one of the most awful. Although Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush is surely a contender. Ah well, the good news is that with every single U.S. President…we can find some things they did that made America and the world a better place…and some things that made it worse.

    Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, someone once said. True enough.


  9. James Hanley says:

    Just because it’s rarely noted, I want to point out that Hoover was a true hero before he became president. He almost single-handedly organized the post WWI relief effort that saved millions of Europeans from starvation. It’s a shame that he’s remember primarily for his (admittedly failed) presidency.


  10. Jim says:

    Thank you, Ed. You summed up perfectly how I feel. Bravo!


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