Kenneth Whyte’s new Herbert Hoover biography

by on October 17, 2017 at 12:39 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

This excellent book is titled Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times.  Here is one good bit:

Knowing that he could not manage what he could not measure, Hooover made Commerce botha producer and a clearinghouse of relevant information on the U.S. economy.  Once again, he turned to like-minded experts, this time primarily in the academic community.  Hoover announced the Advisory Committee on Statistics and recruited to it such luminaries as Edwin Gay, the first dean of the new Harvard Business School; Edwin Seligman, the Columbia economist and a founder and past president of the American Economic Association; and Cornell’s Walter Willco, a past president of the American Statistical Association and a former co-director of the U.S. Census.  Another eminence, Julius Klein, the Harvard economist and historian, was recruited to head Hoover’s Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce and allowed to increase its budget by a factor and six and its personnel by a factor of five.  In short time, these and other initiatives turned Commerce into a vast reservoir of information on every aspect of economic life from steel to motion pictures…

The scope of Hoover’s activities in Commerce was stupendous.  Singlehandedly doing enough work for an entire cabinet, he was said to be “Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of Everything Else.”

Recommended, note that Hoover was in fact one of the most qualified men ever to have become president.

1 Ray Lopez October 17, 2017 at 12:42 am

Hoover is underrated. I saw a video meme on the net, that turns out to be accurate, that indicated Hoover in college asked for help from a prominent composer for tuition, the composer gave Hoover the money, when Hoover was an unknown student, then, years later, this composer was prime minister in the Polish? government and, unknown to this minister, Hoover was the US president who returned the favor when the prime minister asked for help from the US government.

2 Ray Lopez October 17, 2017 at 12:44 am

Also, if you believe like I do that the Great Depression was really a random act that no amount of monetarism or Keynesianism would have cured (recall money is largely neutral, the GD was over by 1934, Keynesianism was not really even tried by FDR, who distrusted it, and WWII more or less created AD enough to break the funk of the GD, arguably FDR perhaps even prolonged the GD with all his rules and regulations), then Hoover’s status goes up.

3 Larry Siegel October 17, 2017 at 2:43 am

I agree with all this except the part about the random fluctuation. A sharp, short depression of the 1920-1921 type after the twenties boom was probably an unavoidable random fluctuation; Smoot-Hawley and the Fed made it worse. These factors still do not explain the length and depth of the Great Depression, which remains partly unexplained.

4 msgkings October 17, 2017 at 3:33 am

Good post.

But I also agree with Ray, Hoover was/is underrated

5 Ray Lopez October 17, 2017 at 4:20 am

@Larry Siegel – surely the 1920-21 depression was a natural reaction to the end of inflation in WWI, repricing of gold, and the adjustments made by combatants in AD/AS? By contrast, 1929 was a bull market and the crash was widely believed to be only temporary; only later did the routine recession of 1929/30 become a bank panic and Great Depression. I personally blame the transition from steam to gasoline, horse to motor car, and unsafe unit banking in the USA (brittle banks that easily failed, not being networked). But I agree the GD is partly unexplained.

6 So Much For Subtlety October 17, 2017 at 4:37 am

I personally blame the transition from steam to gasoline, horse to motor car,

As rare as it is for me to agree with Ray’s usually colorful postings, I have seen other people claim that the introduction of machinery into agriculture caused a massive movement of people off the land around the time of the Great Depression – not all Dust Bowl refugees but people pushed out by combine harvesters.

Maybe in normal times that wouldn’t have mattered but if you add it to all the other problems you have a depressed urban labor market.

7 Just Another MR Commentor October 17, 2017 at 4:42 am

But this is well known isn’t it? There was also a Great Depression in the 19th century during the 1870s but the personal effects were not as severe because society was far more agricultural; almost everyone either lived on or was only 1 generation away from farm life. Unemployment isn’t as big of a problem when people have a farm to go back to. In the 1930s this was no longer the case.

8 Ali Choudhury October 17, 2017 at 4:50 am

The Depression lasted that long because the Fed kept the money supply too tight throughout the period. World trade was too small for Smoot-Hawley to be a major drag. The economy only rebounded after the money supply was loosened in the wake of WW2. The US fortunately had Ben Bernanke, who had done a lot of Depression-focused research in charge of the Fed in 2008 instead of the overrated Randian Alan Greenspan. Turkey similarly avoided a recession in 2016 by guaranteeing and encouraging business loans to enterprises who may have gone out of business otherwise.

9 Brian Donohue October 17, 2017 at 8:58 am

Tight money plus counterproductive wage measures ensured protracted unemployment. Read Sumner’s The Midas Paradox.

10 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm

I have seen other people claim that the introduction of machinery into agriculture caused a massive movement of people off the land around the time of the Great Depression – not all Dust Bowl refugees but people pushed out by combine harvesters.

About 40% of the heads of households listed an agricultural occupation in the 1880 Census, 30% in the 1920 Census, and 15% in the 1940 census.

11 Borjigid October 17, 2017 at 8:34 am

FDR’s persistent, though unintentional, sabotage of the recovery should be considered.

12 Wonks Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 10:39 am

The Federal Reserve (who caused it in the first place) did their part to sabotage it by raising reserve requirements.

13 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm

FDR favored policies which injured the labor market. Real per capita product grew quite rapidly from the spring of 1933 to the end of 1936 and from the middle of 1938 to the fall of 1945. Mean growth rate in real gdp over the period running from 1933 to 1941 was about 8.4%. Growth rate in per capita product over the period running from 1929 to 1941 averaged 2.15%. The world of 1941 was more affluent than the world of 1929 (but had terrible sclerosis in its labor market).

The ever-self-confident Dr. Sumner contends the problem in 1937-38 wasn’t reserve requirements but the sterilization of gold flows.

14 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 10:10 am


It’s not a bad thing to admit we can’t entirely explain an event.

And the more I’ve learnt about the period, the more I think my schooling travestied Hoover.

15 Vance Koven October 19, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Composer here. Yes, the composer in question (really he was even more famous as a pianist) was Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Musicians in public life are quite rare, but they happen: Paderewski, Verdi, Edward Heath, Condoleezza Rice. Throw in Ben Franklin if you’re so inclined.

16 Massimo October 17, 2017 at 1:12 am

A couple of days ago I read that Hoover, as a member of America First Committee, declared just after Pearl Harbour: “if you stick a needle in a rattlesnack enough times, the rattlesnack will eventually react”. Best definition of FDR behavior in ’39-’41 I read. From Globocop of Marc Ledbetter, very recommended.

17 Ray Lopez October 17, 2017 at 4:15 am

Sad that America has lost that spirit. Now snowflake Americans are afraid, unlike the Israelis, of taking out North Korea’s Kim. Hoover would not have hesitated. Instead we are held hostage to a $50B economy (by comparison, Greater DC and most big US cities have an economy roughly six to ten times bigger) with nuclear weapons. In the past, most advanced civilizations ended when conquerors had a superior technology that they could not counter (be it iron age weapons, Hun/Mongol cavalry attacks, firearms). I can easily see Western civilization ebbing because of nuclear weapons used by some rogue country like North Korea, Yemen, Libya (which was planning to get nukes before Qaddafi died), or any random collection of kooks who think they will be immortal if they do some infamous deed.

18 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 7:30 am

That is authentic evil.

Only an evil man would kill thousands because of a personal fear about a possible future.

19 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 7:36 am

By the way, let’s note the painful irony. Republicans made “did not support Iraq II” a litmus test for 2016, only to turn around and as a group support Iraq III in Korea.

20 TMC October 17, 2017 at 8:23 am

From wiki: “The Libyan disarmament issue was peacefully resolved on December 2003 when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction program, including a decades-old nuclear weapons program.”

One of the underestimated benefits of the Iraq war. It was a major screw up to invade Libya later on after this. Now who’d give up their program thinking it will make them safe from us?

21 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 8:47 am

Libya was screwed up, but it was in the context of a revolution, and not a straight invasion.

22 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 8:49 am
23 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 8:53 am

Strangely, it was Brazil that made the best call:

Brazil too abstained noting the fundamental contradiction in using force to achieve an “immediate end to violence and the protection of civilians”. They believed that the use of force “may have the unintended effect of exacerbating tensions on the ground and causing more harm than good to the very same civilians we are committed to protecting”. The Brazilian Ambassador Mrs. Viotti further observed that “…an important aspect of the popular movement in North Africa and the Middle East is their spontaneous, homegrown nature. We are also concerned about the possibility that the use of military force, as called for in paragraph 4 of today’s resolution, could change that narrative in ways that may have serious repercussions for the situation in Libya and beyond.”

24 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 11:52 am

Is it surprising? Brazil has a strong history of suporting self-determination and true multilateralism. Brazil was one of the first countries to recognize Red China and Communist Angola.

25 Peter October 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

Please explain how you think North Korea is “holding us hostage”? Nuclear weapons or not, the South Korean strategy of mostly ignoring the Kims has actually worked pretty well.

26 derek October 17, 2017 at 9:51 am

South Korea isn’t the issue. It is Japan. Having missiles lobbed over your country will provoke a reaction. I think the biggest lever is the that of a nuclear Japan.

27 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 9:59 am

If Americans want peace in Asia, they should dismantle the Japanese regime.

28 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 7:44 am

Crushing a snakerattle is making the future safer.

29 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 7:50 am

Who said that? Richard Cheney in March 2003?

The same mistake, the same world-designing arrogance, the same ignorance.

30 Thiago Ribeiro October 17, 2017 at 8:06 am

No one said Japan was building an atomic bomb. The Japanese regime was a clear and present danger for civilization and had to be annihilated.

31 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 8:13 am

I have a book written in ~1930 by a NY Journalist. It says “Everybody knows we are going to have to fight the Japanese, so I went to meet them ..”

So one lie we told ourselves after Perl Harbor is that we were all peaceful and surprised at that point.

But that said, who committed the evil of attack and preemptive war? If we didn’t start the war, maybe we weren’t actually the bad guys.

32 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 9:13 am

So that’s it: those poor doves Hitler and Tojo, who had swalled much of Asia and Europe, were surprised by senseless American aggression. It is sad to see that Facism has become respectable again in America. Maybe America needs another Pear Harbor to remember how to deal with the fifth columnin its midst.

33 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 3:14 pm

So one lie we told ourselves

We were ‘lying’ and your basis for saying that is the reported table talk in the circle of friends of one reporter 11 years earlier?

You’ve never known many people who were ambulatory and sentient in 1941, have you?

34 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm

People born in the 20s or 30s have a better handle on this than those born in the 50s or 60s who had the “sneak attack” inculcated a thousand ways.

It was a sneak attack .. but one we were planning for.

“War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility that each nation’s military forces planned for in the 1920s, though real tension did not begin until the 1931 invasion of Manchuria by Japan.” – Wikipedia

35 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 4:23 pm

People born in the 20s or 30s have a better handle on this than those born in the 50s or 60s who had the “sneak attack” inculcated a thousand ways.

My parents, their siblings, and proximate cousins were born between 1913 and 1937. They lived it, chump.

36 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 6:29 pm

What are you even talking about at this point? That your family disproves a history?

“War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility that each nation’s military forces planned for in the 1920s, though real tension did not begin until the 1931 invasion of Manchuria by Japan.”

37 Art Deco October 18, 2017 at 8:37 am

What are you even talking about at this point? That your family disproves a history?

Your contention is that one reporter proves a history, because that[‘s the story you like. You like that story because you’re kind of a jerk. You will find almost no one who lived through that era who thought of it that way.

38 GHQ October 17, 2017 at 2:48 am

Japan’s leaders were not venous reptiles acting on instinct. The were rational and well-informed about the risks involved. No one forced them to do anything. They had other options. They decided to roll the dice. They lost.

39 Todd K October 17, 2017 at 4:03 am

Very few in the Japanese government understood the risks. Admiral Yamamoto undesrtood at least some of the risks but his warnings were ignored.

40 So Much For Subtlety October 17, 2017 at 4:41 am

By the time they got sucked into the war in China, their other options were bad. They could unilaterally surrender to the US – which was demanding a full withdraw from China while refusing to lift the oil blockade. Which meant that they could do to Japan what they did to Germany in 1919: agree to peace on the basis of a moderate agreement but with the embargo in place, they could then impose whatever terms they liked.

Or they could try to fight it out.

I am not sure they chose poorly. After all Japan was saved by the Cold War. By 1950 America needed Japan and did not want it to fall to the USSR. In 1941 that was not true. Japan might well have become more like Panama or the Philippines.

41 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 9:58 am

In fact, the best way to make friends with Americans is murdering young Americans. Ask the Germans, the Japanese, the Saudis, the Chinese, the Vietnamese. Americans are always too eager to sacrifice their own children to Moloch if they can get money out of it.

42 Alistair October 17, 2017 at 10:23 am

Sorry, Japan made too many morally bad choices in those decades.

I agree that, after Manchuria, the costs of going straight rise for them. But complying with 1940 US demands did not constitute “unconditional surrender” by any reasonable use of the term. The choice before Japan was to preserve complete domestic autonomy at price of renouncing their aggression (let’s not pretend the US had the slightest interest in Japanese domestic policies). Maybe it would be bad for the clique running the Japanese government, but the average Japanese would probably have benefitted from stopping their nations’ war in China and resuming normal trade relations with the US. Not to mention the rather deleterious effects of bombing and blockade on standards of living….

They chose the aggression instead, based on a demented combination of belief in Bushido, their ethnic superiority, and raw material mercantilism. Mistake.

43 Massimo October 17, 2017 at 11:36 am

Japan was so completely exhausted by FDR sanctions that in May 1941 Konoe, the current prime minister, offered to the US a withdrawal from Asia including Manchuria. FDR refused to meet him because he wanted his war with Germany (although he preferred a direct war with Hitler, that he pursued with his open but undeclared warfare in the Northern Atlantic. Japan was a roundabout way to obtain it and option number two). Tojo tried to send emissaries in November, but was again rebuffed, although in that occasion Manchuria and Korea were most likely not on the table. We do not know if FDR really knew about Pearl Harbour or not, but we know for sure that he knew Japan was desperate. The Americans had broken the code the Japanese diplomats in Washington were using, and were reading the correspondence between the Foreign minister and the ambassador, including one in the summer in which a desperate sounding foreign minister told the ambassador that unless they found a way to eliminate the sanctions, war was inevitable, the Navy had enough oil for 24 months only. FDR likely was thinking about war with the British and Dutch, that he would have manipulated into an attack on the US interests to obtain the declaration of war, but he wasn’t probably expecting an attack on Pearl.

But in a longer perspective war was inevitable and in large part because of a series of blunder of the Americans. First Teddy Roosevelt little war with Spain to obtain bases in the Pacific (Philippines and Guam): that was the start of American empire. Then at Versailles Wilson allowed the Japanese to keep all the German possession in the Pacific, creating another empire in the same area. You can’t have two empires in the same place.

Of course all this does not condone the Japanese (the rattlesnake). But it is not the job of the US to go in the world looking for rattlesnakes to crush, to paraphrase Quincy Adams. It is not only because of justice, treasure and soldier lives. A major reason is that the monsters have a tendency to come ashore, like in Pearl Harbour and in 9/11

44 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 11:46 am

So that is it. Hitler and his Japanese pals should have been allowed to conquer the world and impose a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

45 Todd K October 17, 2017 at 11:50 am

“Japan was so completely exhausted by FDR sanctions that in May 1941 Konoe, the current prime minister, offered to the US a withdrawal from Asia including Manchuria.”

Please show that FDR’s sanctions had a major effect on Japan. Ever notice that those who state this never put up numbers to support their view? Japan had a pretty large economy at the time but what was the ratio of frozen assetts to GDP then? Numbers and sources, please.

46 massimo October 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm

First to this slightly deranged-appearing Todd K. You might start with this: In this wikipedia article, it is stated that 73% of scrap iron (most of the iron processed by the Japanese) and 93% of copper came in 1939 from the US. Add to that rubber, completely cut off with the concurrent embargo of the Dutch, and oil, that was almost all imported from the US (that is why they had only 24 months of oil for the Navy in the summer 1940). And don’t forget that FDR in the last round of sanctions simply, unilaterally, freezed all the assets of the japanese in the US. I also mention Globocop from Marc Ledbetter. I understand it is a secondary source, but I am not a historian by profession, I do not spend time consulting archives. Take it, and do some investigations of your own, or leave it. I state something, if you think is false tell me that is false and demonstrate it, or just ignore me.
Just for curiosity, I wonder if you knew about Konoe diplomatic moves in May 1941. I never found an American, outside some hard-core libertarians that know their FDR, that knew about it. IMHO, it is an indictment of the quality and slavery to state propaganda of the public school system.

47 massimo October 17, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I continue answering to this Truth seeker that seems, judging from the tone of his post, to have already found it, written in stone by some God of sort.
In 1941 the Japanese were ready to fully retreat, sanctions worked, as I tried to state earlier.
Regarding the Germans, in late 1941 they were in a deadly embrace with the Soviets. Most think that the history of the East front is a simple story of the German winning everything until Stalingrad and then the Russians winning everything after it. Not so, the sorts of the the war were in balance until the fall of the Central front in summer 1944 with operation Bagration, or at the very least until Kursk. The Russians in particular were at the point of achieving a spectacular break-through in the counter-offensive of the winter ’41-’42, before the Germans retook the offensive in the summer with Case Blue. Everybody was stunned by the German successes of Barbarossa in the autumn, but the Russians still started the war with more tanks that the rest of the world combined. T-26s, better than panzer II and Pz 35-38 (t) of the Germans, and kv-1 & 2 and T-34s, much better than the few Pz IIIs and IVs fielded by the Germans. That the Germans were to win with the Soviets was not a foregone conclusion. As a matter of fact, Truman half-facetiously stated in late ’41 that the best course for the Americans would have been to provide money and weapons to whatever part was losing, in order to keep the war going as far as the two collectivist hells would have annihilated each other.
And even this is beyond the point. The US did not participate in the crusade against Napoleon, nor in the independence of Greece, nor in other crisis that could have been a most logical use of their force, if in their Constitution was written that policing the world was its objective. But the Constitution stated the contrary. According to most of the framers (hamiltom might have been the exception) only defensive wars could have been considered, and even in that case, based on militias, almost without standing army, for the framers were terrorized by standing armies, the death of Republics. The US did not have a significant standing army until 1945 (in 1939 its army was judged to be the 19th strongest in the world, behind Bulgaria).
It seems strange to state it now, after 70 years of statist propaganda, but the US had no national interest to intervene military in IIWW (helping with money and weapons might have been a different issue), nor his people wanted (Roosevelt was elected with a clearly anti-interventionist platform). FDR engineered the entrance of the US in WWII. First he tried provoking the Germans in the Atlantic, and when he realized Hitler was not taking the bait that the Kaiser did, he moved to option B with the Japanese. In his diary, Stimson clearly states that in the days after Pearl Harbour a strange calm descended on the cabinet, because, even if stunned by the ferocity of the Japanese attack, they realized that FDR objective was finally reached.

48 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm

The Japanese kept stalling and refusing to let its prey go. They were given two options, embargo or retreating to Japan. They chose military aggression, world domination, genocide, systematic rape and death marchs. It is absurd that the free world must be blamed for not having let itself to be conquered by totalitarism. As for being busy with the Soviets, Hitler must have thought otherwise. He was not required by German compromises to enter at war with the United States after Pearl Harbor anymore than Japan was required to join the Soviet Union after Barbarossa. Hitler thought America would have been an easy prey to his war machine. He was about that as wrongbas about other things.

49 massimo October 17, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Re: Japan, you are not answering to my point, why FDR did not even meet with Konoe? Japan was very aggresive only before the sanctions. The invasion of French Indochina of 1940 was related to the trade in weapons with China, a pretty common casus belli. The moving of the main force in 1941 was only at the end of July, preparing for the possible invasion of Indonesia. This was months after the opening of Konoe to FDR. Again, why FDR did not even consider peace, meeting Konoe and checking his proposals?

Regarding Germany, Hitler resisted Raedler implorations to attack back American destroyers that were hunting German submarines without provocations. He did not have to declare on the US, just as Japan did not declare on the Soviet at the start of Barbarossa. But, misteriously, Rainbow 5 ( was leaked to the press and became the news around the world in the days immediately preceding Pearl Harbour. Confronted with the evidence (don’t forget all the other FDR propaganda, like the british fakes on the German wanting to create a puppet states in Bolivia, to which FDR gave a lot of prominence), Hitler had to convene that the FDR already decided for open war, it was only a question of time, and finally decided to give Raedler a free hand.

The idea that Hitler considered America an easy prey, or that he wanted to attack America to satisfy some idea of Germany dominating the entire world, are so childish to make me wonder if you are serious. Hitler was very conscious of the power of the US and spent 2 years accepting all type of abuse from FDR without responding. If you were right on this fantastic idea that Hitler wanted to declare on the US, he had the casus belli 100 times in the previous 2 years.

Again, nobody is here to defend Hitler or Tojo (or Stalin, for that matter), but please, let’s stop with this Orwellian depiction of the US brought in a war that they tried to avoid at any costs. Both the Japanese and the Germans decided on war on the Americans because they were already at war with the Americans, in an undeclared war chosen by FDR: Land-Lease and the “destroyer war” in the case of Germans, and deadly sanctions that had already achieved their stated objective in the case of the Japanese.

50 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Because it would be a waste of time and you know that. The book says the same thing: the Japanese did not accept to withdraw from China. Exactly what you wanted Roosevelt negociate with Japan after that is impossible to guess. Japan had an opportunity to avoid war, instead it decided to murder Amareican citizens. The Japanese regime, that was trying to conquer the world, was the clear aggressor.

51 Todd K October 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm

@massimo The wikipedia entry didn’t list the amount of Japanese frozen assets, nor did your recent comment, the one where you wrote I am supposedly slightly deranged for asking such a question. If this is such common knowledge then I assume you can rattle off the amount and source for the number.

Try Bankrupting Japan, 2007, for why the oil embargo was not effective (this is basic economics) , but I think it did spook the Japanese goverenment. That author also discusses frozen assets but doesn’t give a number in his book or hour talk that promoted the book.

Yes, Konoe is discussed among Japan experts and was recently brought up on a Japan forum last month. Nobody there (historians and economists) could answer my two questions either: What was the size of Japan’s GDP in 1941 and what was the amount of the frozen assets?These are quantitaive, not qualititative questions.

I couldn’t find where Marc Ledbetter mentions the amount of frozen assets.

52 Massimo October 17, 2017 at 5:34 pm

@truth seeker I did not read the book you referenced, but the consensus is that the Japanese were ready to give up most of China. There are many that say they would not have given up Manchuria, and that Konoe proposals, even if accepted by the Americans, would have been nixed by the rest of the Big Six. The reality is of course that nobody know for sure. Still, Konoe was the Prime Minister and part of the Six. If he let you know that is willing to fly to Washington or anywhere else at your convenience to present a proposal consistent with what you said the sanctions were supposed to achieve, why refusing even to meet him? When you say that they had an opportunity for peace and they decided to kill Americans, I guess you refer to Pearl Harbour. But this is exactly what we are discussing. In my view, they had no possibility of peace because FDR wanted a war with Germany, and he wasn’t sure to have it sticking needles in the German rattlesnake, so he wanted to keep open the possibility of doing it with the Japanese, hoping the Germans would tag along, and some leaks to the press could have helped.

@ Todd. I do not know Japanese GDP in ’41 or the assets frozen as a percentage of GDP, and I did not know that nobody know those numbers, although I doubt this is some type of conspiration among historians. But, with respect, I do not understand your seemingly obsession with those numbers. We have plenty of proof that the Japanese were desperate, not only the openings for peace of Konoe. We all know that the Japanese knew that in the medium term there was no way to resist the Americans (let alone winning the war, nobody could imagine to physically invade the US after, say, 1850). They did not want any geographical concession from the Americans either (well, maybe the Philippines, but it wasn’t their main objective). They wanted access to oil, ore and rubber of Indonesia, and if they could not trade it, they decided they had to take it by force. So, why attacking Pearl Harbour? As you must know, just because their only hope, apart from peace with the elimination of sanctions, which FDR did not want to consider, was to get South-east Asia in a couple of years and then sue for peace before the US could mobilize their awesome industrial power for war. If they could get it by trade and peace, given that they already made peace with the idea of leaving China (that was not going as smoothly as they thought anyway), why attack the Americans? A logical answer is that they were desperate, and there are mountains of communications and other documents that are consistent with this, even if, I guess, they do not include the GDP and frozen assets numbers. But please, give me your counter-theory. Do you think they risked the war with the Americans because they wanted the Philippines and maybe Hawaii? Or because they thought that with Pearl Harbour only the Americans would be so desperate for peace to drop the sanctions?

53 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 5:57 pm

The Japanese coukd have given up China by … giving it up! It was clear the Fascist regime allied itaelf to Nazi Germany hoping to enslave mankind.

54 Todd K October 17, 2017 at 11:21 pm

@Massimo How is asking for two data points obsessive? You can just say you don’t have them. I never said there was a conspiracy (more theatrics), just that many historians don’t seem to know yet make conclusions anyway.

55 Just Another MR Commentor October 17, 2017 at 3:03 am

Shorter Tyler: Jobs programs are bad except jobs programs for academic economists. You can measure a greatness of a leader by how many cushy jobs they give to academic economists like me.

56 Alan October 17, 2017 at 6:56 am

And, apparently, by how many personal debts they pay back using the US Treasury.

57 GHQ October 17, 2017 at 6:12 am

1. They didn’t get sucked into China. They chose to invade China and to stay there.
2. They certainly did understand the risks (“they” meaning those who made the decisions). They decided that the risks were worth taking, given the alternatives. (Or as they thought, the risks were unavoidable, because the alternative was unthinkable). This is obvious. They also thought they had a good chance of achieving their objectives, given a little luck and assuming the Americans got tried of fighting and went back home (that is what Yamamoto was gambling on–it didn’t happen, as we know). And that Germany whipped Russia. Also didn’t happen. They knew what they were potentially up against, they simply gambled that things would go their way, what they wanted to happen would happen and what they didn’t want to happen wouldn’t happen. It’s not a good way to plan a war, but it happens a lot, it seems.
I would recommend Roberta Wohlsteter’s Warning and Decision and The Pacific War Research Society’s Japan’s Longest Day (日本一番長い日), among many other books on the subject of what Japan’s leaders understood and why they decided to do what they did. Michael Blaker’s Japan’s International Negotiating Style is also valuable although it stops short of the Pacific War.

58 Matthew Young October 17, 2017 at 6:44 am

I have a theory on Hoover and the depression. I have a theory about everything, but this is a bit researched.

He prematurely created the FCC in 1927, I know the exact building and time. The sudden consolidation of national networks created the franchise distributor and the highway system became clogged, we cashed.

The broadcast stations appeared overnight, the roads could not handle the deliveries advertised.

59 Ted Craig October 17, 2017 at 7:00 am

‘”Recommended, note that Hoover was in fact one of the most qualified men ever to have become president.”

So was James Buchanan – Senator, Secretary of State, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, ambassador to Russia and the U.K. Yet, he’s considered not only a failure, but one of the worst presidents ever.

It makes me think resumes are overrated in presidents.

60 Borjigid October 17, 2017 at 8:36 am


On the other end of the spectrum, Lincoln. Bad resume, greatest president.

61 The Other Jim October 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Horse pucky. Trump dominates Lincoln.

62 rayward October 17, 2017 at 7:10 am

Give credit where credit is due, to Scott Sumner: the Fed did it! That the financial crisis of 1929 was a random event is the explanation of the blind economist, who doesn’t have eyes to see or, more likely, who doesn’t have eyes that want to see. The beauty of markets, or the ugliness of markets depending on one’s point of view, is that they correct imbalances. Were there imbalances in 1929? Did markets correct the imbalances? Were there imbalances in 2007? Did markets correct the imbalances? Are there imbalances today? Will markets correct today’s imbalances? Even a blind economist should be able to see.

63 Borjigid October 17, 2017 at 8:40 am

Sumner’s actual argument seems to be that the gold standard did it, but close enough.

64 Wonks Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

The pre-war gold standard was a very different thing from what came after. Many countries had gone off the standard and printed lots of currency to help fund the war, and the attempt (mainly by the Bank of France) to go back to pre-war valuation screwed things up. Central banks can still screw things up in a similar way even without a pseudo-gold standard, as happened in 2008.

65 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Central banks can still screw things up in a similar way even without a pseudo-gold standard, as happened in 2008.

The Fed didn’t give you Joseph Cassano’s Financial Products Unit at AIG, or Citigroup’s loan portfolio, or Wachovia’s, or WaMu’s, or the asset portfolios of Lehman, Merrill Lynch, Bear / Stearns, and Countrywide. The Fed didn’t slash underwriting standards at Freddie Mac or run interference for the mortgage maws when some in Congress wanted to compel an improvement in their accounting practices (Barney Frank did that). They didn’t write the laws that allowed the assemblage of entities like Citigroup which were beyond the skill set of the FDIC. The one thing the Fed Chair did (a decade earlier) was assist in sabotaging Brooksley Born’s efforts to flush out the market in over-the-counter derivatives.

The Fed’s a whipping boy for goldbugs and Scott Sumner.

66 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Scott Sumner whips the Fed with his cock just like he whips me.

67 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 3:12 pm

IIRC, Barry Eichengreen, Paul Krugman, Sir Alan Walters, and Milton Friedman were agreed that monetary policy failures were responsible. Walters pointed out that Britian’s recovery began almost immediately upon its devaluation of the pound in September 1931, whereas the American economy continued to career downhill until mid-1932 and sink still further until the spring of 1933.

68 Trimegistus October 17, 2017 at 7:56 am

But liberal historians and journalists say Hoover was a failure and Roosevelt saved us all. Liberals wouldn’t say something that isn’t true, would they?

69 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 8:01 am

It wasn’t really historians. It was the lived history of a generation. “Hovervilles” mattered more than what historians said 50 years later.

You can argue that citizens and journalists were unfair in the 30s, but start there.

70 Just Another MR Commentor October 17, 2017 at 8:59 am

If you read the excerpt here the argument present here for Hoover’s greatness is basically he had a fantastic resume before assuming office and he spent a lot of time listening and giving important positions to academic economists. So I think as far as it goes the liberal historians still have the better take on it.

71 The Other Jim October 17, 2017 at 9:10 am

>Hoover was in fact one of the most qualified men ever to have become president.

Interesting. Could you make a list of the most qualified women ever to have become president?

Ha! Oh, man. I crack me up. Have a good one.

72 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 10:34 am

It is clear that the Americans and the Japanese are in cahoots.

73 dearieme October 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

“Hoover was in fact one of the most qualified men ever to have become president.” And very possibly the cleverest but his reputation is mud. Oh democracy!

74 A Truth Seeker October 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

It happens when one drives his country’s economy into the ground. The Republicans took the credit of the boom, why should the sitting president take the blame for the bust?

75 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm

His reputation is mud because he presided over an economic catastrophe.

76 dearieme October 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm

His reputation is mud because the great unwashed don’t distinguish his calibre as a man from the failure of his Presidency. And his Presidency failed because they attribute to the President whatever happens to the economy, whatever the cause.

His countrymen want everyone to be either a good guy or a bad guy. They will even elevate a thoroughly bad guy into being a good guy. Frinstance JFK. All very sad.

77 The Cuckmeister General October 17, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Listen you cuck, we basically keep your little island from sinking into the sea so put a cock in it.

78 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 6:25 pm

We’re not talking about attributing the business cycle to the incumbent (from which Bilge Clinton benefited). North America wasn’t Britain. The decline in industrial production was 30%, not 5%. That was, in fact, attributable to discrete policy failures with three addresses, the president’s desk among the three.

79 B.B. October 17, 2017 at 11:42 am

I agree that he was an extraordinarily intelligent, educated, benign, and diligent man and well-qualified for the job.

His relief efforts during and after the First World War may have saved millions of lives.

He was a Quaker, and I suspect a pacifist at heart. He was an isolationist, I think.

His attitudes were basically Progressive along the lines of Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. He believed in economic intervention.

But he had a flawed ideology. He was so attached to Republican thrift that he was pushed for a massive income tax hike in the Depression to reduce the deficit. And he adopted the traditionally Republican habit of “protecting” domestic industry with steep tariffs. Finally, not having enough economics to separate the symptom from the cause, he worked to stop nominal wage cuts in the Depression. Nominal wage rigidity aggravates downturns. or so it was argued.

Bottom line: a good man with a bad ideology can do more damage than a bad man with a good ideology.

Or was he just unlucky?

80 Anonymous October 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm


81 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm

He didn’t have a ‘flawed ideology’. He failed to engineer a currency devaluation when the National Government in Britain got the job done.

82 Art Deco October 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm

The scope of Hoover’s activities in Commerce was stupendous. Singlehandedly doing enough work for an entire cabinet, he was said to be “Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of Everything Else.”

He was a capable administrator. I don’t know why people talk rot like this, though. (Calvin Coolidge was more skeptical, btw, saying Hoover gave him a great deal of unsolicited advice, nearly all bad).

That he was as able as anyone ever sworn into office did not prevent him from making some stupendously bad policy decisions.

83 bob October 18, 2017 at 6:46 am

Hoover was indeed a brilliant administrator. AS a manager perhaps no President has a stronger resume. But I think his lack of experience in running for and holding electoral office were huge liabilities. Parallels to the current President, who even his most vocal critics have to admit, has a genius for product promotion, are interesting.

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