Great Depression Main Street
THE GREAT DEPRESSION devastated every part of America, even its smallest towns.
Library of Congress

According to this simplistic perspective, an important pillar of capitalism, the stock market, crashed and dragged America into depression. President Herbert Hoover, an advocate of "hands-off," or laissez-faire, economic policy, refused to use the power of government and conditions worsened as a result. It was up to Hoover's successor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to ride in on the white horse of government intervention and steer the nation toward recovery. The apparent lesson to be drawn is that capitalism cannot be trusted; government needs to take an active role in the economy to save us from inevitable decline.

But those who propagate this version of history might just as well top off their remarks by saying, "And Goldilocks found her way out of the forest, Dorothy made it from Oz back to Kansas, and Little Red Riding Hood won the New York State Lottery." The popular account of the Depression as outlined above belongs in a book of fairy tales and not in a serious discussion of economic history.