Category Archives: Herbert Hoover

The Trouble with Socialism Is Socialism; the Trouble with Capitalism is Capitalists

William F. Buckley Jr.? William Schlamm? Winston Churchill? Herbert Hoover?


Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard a humorous saying that compares two major economic systems:

The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists.

These words have been attributed to conservative commentator William F Buckley Jr. and British statesman Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a profile of William F Buckley Jr. published in “Esquire” magazine in 1961. Buckley believed that socialism was a flawed economic system, but he also found fault with individual capitalists. He felt that the magazine he founded called “National Review” deserved greater financial support from business people, and he blamed “just plain stinginess”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Mr. Buckley paused a moment, then quoted an adage someone had told him that he felt summed up the problem: “The trouble with socialism is socialism; the trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

This instance used the word “trouble” instead of “problem”. The context indicated that Buckley was not claiming credit for the expression. During the following decades he employed it multiple times, and in 1978 he ascribed the words to William Schlamm (Willi Schlamm), a European journalist who had worked with Buckley in the early years of the “National Review”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1961 January 1, Esquire: The Magazine for Men, Volume 55, Number 1, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Portrait of a Complainer by Dan Wakefield, Start Page 49, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Esquire Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)

The Only Trouble with Capitalism Is Capitalists. They’re Too Damned Greedy

Herbert Hoover? Mark Sullivan Jr.? Harold G. Moulton? Apocryphal?

money07Dear Quote Investigator: U.S. President Herbert Hoover perceived the dangers of stock market speculation in the late 1920s and tried unsuccessfully to convince the Governor of New York to introduce regulations. After the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 he supposedly reacted bitterly:

The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they’re too damn greedy.

Is this an accurate quotation?

Quote Investigator: The evidence for this quotation comes from the oral testimony given in 1968 by Mark Sullivan Jr. whose father and Herbert Hoover were close friends. The transcript is preserved at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. The Sullivan and Hoover family members went fishing together and dined with one another often. The son was born in May 1911; hence, he was 18 at the time of the Stock Market Crash. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Incidentally, that reminds me of a remark I can remember Mr. Hoover making. This was when he was President and I’m quite sure it was after the Depression had started. I can remember him saying, under some circumstances somewhere: “You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they’re too damned greedy,” Of course, that was part of the trouble in the late 20s. If the big corporations, instead of raking in all the profits, had lowered the prices of their products, I suspect we’d have come through with a less severe depression.

The timeframe indicated was between 1929 and 1933. Hoover may have made the comment to Mark Sullivan Sr., and it was heard by his son.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Oral History Interview with Mr. Mark Sullivan Jr. conducted by Raymond Henle on November 30, 1968 at Herbert Hoover Oral History Program Offices in Washington, D.C. (Accessed via scans from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa; thanks to archivist Matthew Schaefer)

Gentlemen, You Have Come Sixty Days Too Late. The Depression Is Over

Herbert Hoover? John A. Ryan? Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.? Apocryphal?

hoover09Quote Investigator: The great depression which began in 1929 was one of the most serious economic calamities of the twentieth century. In the U.S. a high unemployment rate persisted for more than a decade. Herbert Hoover was the U.S. President when the crisis began, and he has been criticized for responding ineffectively. In 1930 a group appealed to Hoover to initiate a large-scale intervention, and he reportedly made the following obtuse reply:

Gentlemen, you have come sixty days too late. The Depression is over.

Is this quotation accurate? Who was speaking with Hoover?

Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent evidence located by QI appeared in a 1931 article in “The Nation” titled “We Met Mr. Hoover” by a lawyer and political activist named Amos Pinchot which described a meeting held in June 1930 between President Hoover and a group that favored a large public works program to mitigate the effects of the great depression. Hoover spoke against the proposal because he believed that unemployment was decreasing and the economy was already improving: 1

Unemployment, he said, was being shamefully exaggerated. Its peak had been reached and passed. The tide had turned. The Census and Labor Department reports, and other information to which, as he reminded us, he had better access than we, would presently show that things were quite different from what we feared. Yes, we were now to drift peacefully, if slowly, back to good times.

According to Pinchot, Hoover made a statement that was similar to part of the quotation. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

He showed us, in authoritative style, that every agency of both the federal and State governments was working at top capacity to relieve the situation. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you have come six weeks too late.”

The next piece of evidence was contained in testimony given in 1933 by John A. Ryan during a subcommittee meeting of the U.S. Senate. Ryan was a scholar, priest, and political activist based at Catholic University. He was a member of the group with Pinchot. In the following excerpt Ryan was answering questions posed by Senator Smith W. Brookhart of Iowa: 2

Doctor Ryan. Absolutely. It is nearly three years since I was a member of the committee headed by Mr. Metzerott, which went to the President of the United States asking him to recommend to Congress the appropriation of $3,000,000,000 for public works. This was in June, 1930; $3,000,000,000 would have been more than enough at that time.

Senator Brookhart. It will take more than $6,000,000,000 now.

Doctor Ryan. Much more. What did he say to that? “Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late. The depression is over.”

Ryan was a critic of Hoover and an advocate of the New Deal policies of the incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ryan’s version of the quotation matched the one under investigation, but if differed somewhat from Pinchot’s version. The time period was “sixty days” instead of “six weeks”. The phrase “The depression is over” was mentioned by Ryan but not by Pinchot. Nevertheless, it was an accurate summary of Hoover’s commentary.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1931 January 14, The Nation, Volume 132, We Met Mr. Hoover by Amos Pinchot, Start Page 43, Quote Page 44, Column 1, Nation Associates, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1933, United States Senate, Seventy-Second Congress, Second Session, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Banking and Currency, Held February 2 and 3, 1933, Further Unemployment Relief through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, S. 5336: A Bill to Amend the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932, (Statement of John A. Ryan, Catholic University, Washington D.C.), Start Page 142, Quote Page 144, Published by U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

The Architect Can Only Advise His Client to Plant Vines

Frank Lloyd Wright? Herbert Hoover? Arch Oboler? Apocryphal?

frankwright03Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a child I saw a gallery of images showing a house built at the top of a waterfall. I fell in love with that house, called Fallingwater, and later learned that it was built by the extraordinary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The amusing quote I would like you to investigate was listed in a biographical sketch that I read many years ago and still remember:

The doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.

Does this accurately depict Wright’s sense of humor or was it invented by someone else?

Quote Investigator: I agree that Fallingwater is a beautiful home. The quote you provide is very similar to a statement made by Wright in a lecture published in 1931. The address was titled “To the Young Man in Architecture” and near the end of the discourse Wright presented a series of fourteen pithy numbered points. Here are three: 1

9. Abandon as poison the American idea of the “quick turnover.” To get into practice “half-baked” is to sell out your birthright as an architect for a mess of pottage, or to die pretending to be an architect.

10. Take time to prepare. Ten years’ preparation for preliminaries to architectural practice is little enough for any architect who would rise “above the belt” in true architectural appreciation or practice.

11. Then go as far away as possible from home to build your first buildings. The physician can bury his mistakes,—but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

Wright used the term “physician” instead of “doctor” in this original version. The quotation was further disseminated when an excerpt from the lecture was reprinted in the periodical “The Architect and Engineer” in November of 1931. Wright enjoyed the joke and used it multiple times over the years. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1931, Two Lectures on Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, To the Young Man in Architecture, (Start Lecture Page 33), Page 62, The Art institute of Chicago,  The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Chicago. (HathiTrust) link
  2. 1931 November, The Architect and Engineer, Thumb Tacks and T-Square, Page 13, Column 3, Architect and Engineer, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans; Many thanks to the Library Assistant at the Architecture Library of Georgia Tech)