Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has naturally built much of his campaign on the observation that recovery from the Great Recession has been too slow under Obama. “This is not what a real recovery looks like,” Romney says, repeatedly. He’s even compared Obama’s record to that of President Hoover, the last President to inherit a financial collapse and a staggering economy. This is obviously meant to be a criticism of Obama and his economic policies.
All that said, Great Depression historian Gregory McElvaine of Millsaps College, says that most people don’t know that compared to Hoover’s record and policies, Obama’s have been remarkably effective. From his article in the New York Times.
While everyone knows that the economic collapse that began in 2008 was a major disaster, most people have come to believe that it was not as dangerous as the one that began in 1929, the year after Hoover was elected president. Part of the reason for this impression is simply linguistic: the current situation has come to be called the Great Recession, which does not sound as bad as the Great Depression. More important, we now have a social safety net that somewhat eases the impact. And as the figures below will confirm, the truth is that our very bad situation today is not nearly as bad as things were eight decades ago, when Hoover was seeking re-election.
But it does not necessarily follow from the comparatively better situation today that the 2008 collapse was that much less severe than 1929’s. In fact, by many measures, what began four years ago this fall was even worse than what started in the fall of 1929. World industrial production, world trade and worldwide equity prices all fell more sharply in 2008-9 than they did in 1929-30. The prospect of a second Great Depression was very real when Barack Obama took office….
And, contrary to the charges made by his political opponents, the main reason that the Panic of 2008 became the Great Recession instead of the Second Great Depression is that the policies that have been employed by the Obama administration to combat it have been so much better than those undertaken by the Hoover administration in 1929. One major reason why the recovery has been so slow is that, thanks in no small part to Obama’s allegedly “failed stimulus policies,” the recession officially ended a scant nine months after the 2008 crash. In contrast, the economy was still in its deepening downward spiral more than three years after the 1929 crash. This difference means that the clock on recovery was started at much earlier point for Obama….
McElvaine then goes forward and documents the very different results Obama’s policies produced, compared to those of Hoover. Romney’s policies very much reflect those held by Hoover, although in fairness to Hoover, he was not as ideologic as Romney.