Debunking the Statist Account of US History

By José Niño
The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History tells you all about the "books you're not supposed to read." (Tom Woods)

What if I told you that most of what you learned in history class was based on outright myths? That’s the impression you’ll get after reading Thomas E. Woods’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.

A breath of fresh air in a field dominated by “court intellectuals,” this 2004 book challenges many flawed yet prevalent interpretations of controversial events throughout US history.

From refuting the misconception of the American Revolution as a radical political upheaval in the vein of the French Revolution to upturning the notion that the 19th-century Gilded Age was harmful to the average worker, Woods pull no punches in questioning the establishment’s proclivity to rely on talking points based on dubious historiography. 

Woods does not shy away from revealing his "old right" bias, but he still does a spectacular job in stirring the pot by offering well-cited information and unique historical takes. Where Woods’s work stands out the most, though, is in its economic analyses of major historical events, above all the Great Depression. Your run-of-the mill history book will generally pin the blame on the speculation within the free market, highlighting how the supposedly “do-nothing” president Herbert Hoover let the economy go down the tubes.

This assertion falls to pieces when examined further. Woods details how Hoover not only implemented interventionist measures throughout his presidency, to combat the stock market crash of 1929, but in many ways laid the groundwork for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

Don’t believe Wood’s claim? Rexford Tugwell, an economist from FDR’s “brain trust,” candidly revealed that “practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.” In fact, Hoover’s constant economic intervention turned the initial recession into a full-blown depression. Some of Hoover’s programs included:

Once Hoover left office, the United States was completely mired in the Great Depression. FDR then took the wheel and not only continued Hoover’s top-down policies, he doubled down on the interventionism.

Years of public schooling have led many Americans to believe that FDR’s alphabet soup of government agencies played a pivotal role in pulling the United States out of the Great Depression. However, as Woods demonstrates, the average unemployment rate was around 18 percent from 1933 to 1940 despite government intervention in practically all spheres of economic life.

In addition to demonstrating how government intervention—not free markets—caused the Great Depression, Woods refutes the widespread myth that World War II put an end to the Great Depression. Woods eloquently explains how the war effort diverted considerable capital and resources toward the production of military equipment. This production did not provide items that ordinary consumers needed. Therefore, it led to overall impoverishment during the war.

If World War II was such an economic panacea, then it would behoove us to be in a perpetual state of war. This assumption is patently absurd. Woods aptly draws upon the sage wisdom of economist Ludwig von Mises, who asserted that “war prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings.”

Naturally, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History raised considerable controversy at the time of its release, above all, from mainstream academic circles. This comes as no surprise, considering that the field has been dominated by statist intellectuals of all stripes over the past century or so.

For individuals who lost interest during their public-school history classes, this is a seminal text that will rekindle their interest and lead you to question the many myths you've been fed throughout the years.

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