In March 1929, the Harding-Coolidge era came to an end. The eight years had witnessed the greatest peacetime prosperity of any nation in history: America in the Roaring Twenties. Early that March, Calvin Coolidge handed the presidency over to Herbert Hoover, who had just pulled off a third straight Republican landslide.
"I do not choose to run," said Coolidge, who could easily have won a second full term. Silent Cal went home. Hoover, whom he privately derided as "Wonder Boy," presided over the Crash of '29 and the first three years of the Great Depression.
History holds Harding, Coolidge and Hoover responsible for the Depression, with Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, and Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley of Smoot-Hawley fame, as accessories. As Voltaire observed, history is a pack of lies agreed upon.
Two men debunked the myth that the low-tax, high-tariff policy of the 1920s brought on the Depression. The more famous is Milton Friedman, who proved to the satisfaction of a Nobel Prize committee that the Depression was a monetary phenomenon. The Fed had opened the sluices, and the money had swamped the stock market.
When Wall Street crashed, there came a run on the banks by men who had bought on margin, a depositors' stampede, a bank collapse, a wipeout of uninsured savings and the loss of a third of the money supply, lifeblood of the economy. The Fed never gave the nation the needed transfusions. Hoover and FDR, misdiagnosing the crisis, raised taxes and wrote up new regulations, which was like putting a body cast on a patient in shock from the loss of a third of his blood
The Smoot-Hawley myth, repeated by John McCain in the Detroit debate, was demolished by Alfred Eckes of Ohio University, Reagan's man at the FTC and America's foremost authority on the history of trade and tariffs, in his 1995 "Opening America's Markets."
The point of this brief history: The recent hand-off from Alan Greenspan, the maestro of the Global Economy, to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may turn out to have been a lateral far behind the line of scrimmage, leaving Bernanke holding the bag for a recession for which he is no more responsible than was the hapless Hoover.
Last week, the stock market saw 4 percent of its value wiped out. Oil reached nearly $100 a barrel. The dollar fell to record lows against the Canadian dollar and the euro. The price of gold was $850 an ounce, signaling inflation and a worldwide lack of confidence in the Fed's ability or determination to defend the world's reserve currency.