Herbert Hoover Wasn’t Parsimonious

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 8, 2011

Please, let’s stop saying that he was:

. . . the evidence is not ambiguous: Hoover did not tighten up on spending. According to the historical tables of the Office of Management and Budget, spending in 1929 was $3.1 billion, up from $2.9 billion the year before. In 1930 it was $3.3 billion. In 1931, Hoover raised spending to $3.6 billion. And in 1932, he opened the taps to $4.7 billion, where it basically stayed into 1933 (most of which was a Hoover budget). As a percentage of GDP, spending rose from 3.4% in 1930 to 8% in 1933–an increase larger than the increase under FDR, though of course thankfully under FDR, the denominator (GDP) had stopped shrinking.

This spending represented a substantial increase over the Coolidge years (outlays had been steady between $2.85 billion and $2.95 billion since 1924). And in real terms they represented a very substantial increase, since both nominal and real GDP were falling.

Hoover did raise taxes on high earners quite a bit in 1932, and perhaps this is what my colleague is thinking of–though as this did not produce any immediately noticeable increase in tax revenue, it’s hard to say how much of a fiscal contraction this actually represented. (Even if it were, outside of the odd Cato paper, Hoover’s name is never invoked to warn against the mortal dangers of what he actually did: raised taxes on rich people in the middle of a recession.)

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