The mills of the Internet grind slow but exceeding fine, and I am grateful to Professor Brad DeLong for discovering and excerpting my post, Herbert Hoover: Made in China , describing Hoover’s role in the alienation of the Kaiping coal fields, on his website on July 26, 2007, about a half year after I wrote it.
By coincidence, I had been intending to repost my pieces on Hoover in commemoration of his role in the summer movie blockbuster Transformers. I don’t think I am spoiling the film for serious cineastes by revealing that Herbert Hoover is depicted as the leader of the government/business consortium that covers up and exploits the capture of arch Decepticon Megatron in the early 20th century.
This evocation of Hoover’s powerful industrialist/financier/insider mojo is a welcome reminder that he was more of an implacable, relentless, and reflexively secretive Dick Cheney type than the hapless Elmer Fudd depicted by his post-Depression critics.
For interested readers, here are links to the two other Hoover-related posts I wrote at the same time.
Walter Liggett, Last of the Muckrakers , provides a history of the journalist who brought the story of Hoover’s role in the Kaiping affair before the American public in his 1930s biography, The Rise of Herbert Hoover. A well-known journalist and progressive in his time who was murdered for his crusade against crime and corruption in Minnesota, he was smeared as a blackmailer by Herbert Hoover’s supporters and virtually forgotten. That he is known to us today is a tribute to the indefatigable efforts of his daughter, Marda Woodbury, to document her father’s life and contributions and defend his reputation.
The Coolie Quagmire: Flogging, Sodomy, and Imperial Overreach on the Rand describes an early attempt to turn labor into a controlled, scientifically-managed global commodity to maximize the profitability of resource projects in distant corners of the world: the export 50,000 Chinese laborers to work in the South African gold fields in the 1900s. The project—for which Hoover’s China Mining and Engineering Corporation, owner of the Kaiping mines, organized the supply of coolies—was a disaster. How this system collapsed, as Chinese workers perversely refused to respond as expected to the array of positive and negative incentives designed to elicit submission and productivity, and helped bring down the Tory government at the same time, is one of the great cautionary tales of 20th century capitalism.