There’s a meme floating around Facebook this week. It features this “trickle up” economics quote from Will Rogers:
The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands (earliest source I’ve found, March 22, 2012).
The meme isn’t new (it’s been around almost three years, at least) but the quote is mostly accurate (it’s missing ellipses). However, important context is also missing, context that places this observation slap dab in the middle of the Great Depression (to talk like Will Rogers, just a little bit).
Here’s the full quote:
This election was lost four and six years ago, not this year. They [Republicans] didn’t start thinking of the old common fellow till just as they started out on the election tour. The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickles down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands. They saved the big banks, but the little ones went up the flue.
The essay by Will Rogers was a regular weekly column.
Number 518, it ran in the St. Petersburg Times on November 27, 1932.
What was going on in the country?
- On November 3, Franklin D. Roosevelt had just been elected president, by a landslide in bothpopular and electoral college vote. He defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover.
- The key election issue was the Great Depression; the stock market had crashed in 1929.
- In 1932, 34 million Americans lived in a family that had no full-time wage earner. The country’s population was about 125 million.
Will Rogers took aim at far more than President Hoover, however, as you can read below.
I’ve transcribed the essay from the Google newspaper archive. I’ve added modern punctuation in a few sentences, but this is primarily written as it was published (screen capture at the bottom). I’ve added links and a bit of commentary (related to the Great Recession), and I’ve highlighted a few choice phrases.
And Here’s How It All Happened
November 26, 1932
St. Petersburg Times
by Will Rogers
Well all I know is just what I read in the papers or what I see as I prowl hither and thither. With the election over everybody seems to have settled down to steady argument.
The old hidebound Republicans still think the world is just on the verge of coming to an end, and you can kinder see their angle at that for they have been running things all these years.
I got a letter the other day from a very prominent businessman in Los Angeles, Mr. Frank Garbutt, the man that has made running of clubs a science, and not just a business. He owns every club from the great Los Angeles athletic club to beach clubs, golf clubs, to polo clubs. Now Frank is the longest headed man you ever saw. Yet he said there wouldn’t be a bank open in five months after Roosevelt took office. I don’t know what these fellows figure the Democrats are going to do with the country.
You would think a lot of folks would have their passage booked to some foreign land til the next election when they could get these Democrats back among the unemployed. Why they were in for eight years here not so long ago, from 1912 to 1920. Course I was just a boy and can’t remember back that far, but I have heard my dear old dad say there was some mighty good times, including a war thrown in for good measure.
Personally I could never see much difference in the two “gangs.” They used to be divided by the tariff. The tariff was originally supposed to aid the man that manufactured things. Well, the Democrats of those days didn’t manufacture anything but arguments, so they were against the tariffs, but the south woke up one day and saw some spinning looms advertised in the Montgomery Ward menu card, so they sent and got some and started spinning their own cotton.
Well they had cheap water power, cheap coal, cheap labor, and the Yankees started moving their shops down from the north. Well the Democrats woke up on another morning with a tariff problem on their hands. The South had gone industrial in a big way. Well they started talking about a tariff in bigger words than the north, so now that the South had got ‘em some smokestacks where they only used to have some mule sheds, why they are just tariffing themselves to death. So that left the principal dividing line between the two parties shot to pieces. You can’t tell one from the other now. Course, the last few years under Mr. Coolidge and Mr. Hoover there had grown the old original idea of the Republican Party, that it was the party of the rich. And I think that was the biggest contributing part in their defeat.
I think the general run of folks had kinder got wise to that. In the old days, they could get away with it, but of late years, the rich had diminished till their voting power wasn’t enough to keep a minority vote going. This last election was a revulsion of feeling that went back a long way ahead of the hard times. Mr. Hoover reaped the benefit of the arrogance of the party when it was going strong.
Why, after that ’28 election, there was no holding ’em. They really did think they had “hard times” cornered once and for all. Merger on top of merger. Get two nonpaying things merged and then issue more stock to the public. Consolidations and holding companies! Those are the “inventions” that every voter that had bought during the “cuckoo” days was gunning for at this last election.
This sounds so much like the derivatives market that led to the 2007-2008 collapse that it gives me shivers. ~@kegill
Saying that all the big vote was just against hard times is not all so. They were voting against not being advised that all those foreign loans was not too solid. They were voting because they had never been told or warned to the contrary that every big consolidation might not be just the best investment. You know the people kinder look on our government to tell ‘em and kinder advise ‘em. Many an old bird really got sore at Coolidge, but could only take it out on Hoover. Big business sure got big, but it got big by selling its stocks and not by selling its products. No scheme was halted by the government as long as somebody would buy the stock. It could have been a plan to deepen the Atlantic Ocean and it would have had the endorsement of the proper department in Washington, and the stocks would’ve gone on the market.
This sounds so much like mortgage trickery that led to underwater loans that it gives me shivers. ~@kegill
This election was lost four and six years ago, not this year. They didn’t start thinking of the old common fellow till just as they started out on the election tour. The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickles down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands. They saved the big banks, but the little ones went up the flue.
Another echo of the “Great Recession” — saving the financial giants that got us into the mess. ~@kegill
No sir, the little fellow felt that he never had a chance, and he didn’t till Nov. 3, and did he grab it? The whole idea of government relief for the last few years has been to loan somebody more money, so they can go further in debt. It ain’t much relief to just transfer your debts from one party to another, adding a little more in the bargain. No, I believe the “boys” from all they had and hadn’t done had this coming to ’em.
- Source of featured image, November 6, 2012.
- Another source for the essay: WillRogers.com, column number 518, page 183, pdf