Recently the Bill of Rights Institute hosted a colloquium on the topic of “Liberty, Responsibility, and the New Deal”. I had the pleasure of talking with several social studies teachers about the extended debate that occurred between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover on the appropriate role of national government in response to a time of economic crisis. What struck us most was how similar their concerns were to the concerns we have.

Hoover’s arguments would not sound out of place at a Tea Party rally: “It does not follow, because our difficulties are stupendous. that we must turn to a State-controlled or State-directed economic system in order to cure our troubles. That is not liberalism; it is tyranny. It is the regimentation of men under automatic bureaucracy with all its extinction of liberty, or hope, and of opportunity.”

Roosevelt did not directly dispute Hoover’s caution about the growth of an administrative state, explaining, “Our task now is not discovery, or exploitation of natural resources, or necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand, of seeking to reestablish foreign markets for our surplus production, of meeting the problem of under consumption, of adjusting production to consumption, of distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. The day of enlightened administration has come.”

The difference between Roosevelt and Hoover, then, was over whether we should trust those in the private sector or those in the public sector to solve our problems. Hoover posed this question in a provocative statement that every educated citizen should have a reasoned judgment on. “The human animal. has two forms of greed – the greed for money and the greed for power. The lust for power is infinitely the worse. The greed for money can be curbed by law, but the greed for power seizes the law itself for its ends.”

Is Hoover right or wrong?

Posted in Staff Updates


One Response to “Liberty, Responsibility, and the New Deal”

  1. Augustus Cavanna says:

    Either/or propositions, which this text is full of, are rarely satisfying. But the record is pretty clear that Hoover’s policies were ineffectual in alleviating the financial problems following the stock market crash in 1929. That crash, one may recall, was in part caused by trusting the private sector too much. The lack of regulation allowed wild financial speculation. Sound at all familiar? Roosevelt’s New Deal not only helped put the US back on a more solid financial footing, but also was a first step in addressing social problems long in need of attention. Thus, if I have to choose between Hoover and Roosevelt (despite both having strengths and weaknesses), I’ll take Roosevelt.

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