From the very beginning of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover failed to comprehend the full gravity of the economic disaster. He felt that it was merely a temporary recession that would soon pass. Therefore, he did not undertake significant measures to mitigate the situation until it was too late.
Most of Hoover's policies focused on indirect economic support and relief. His administration created agencies to encourage greater economic cooperation between economic sectors. This policy, known as associationalism, encouraged farmers, bankers, laborers, and capitalists to band together and make sacrifices for the common good of the nation's economy. Hoover urged farmers and industrialists to produce less in order to stabilize prices. He also wanted the banks to reform the way they invested and issued loans. While this might have worked in theory, it lacked any form of meaningful enforcement. The various actors did not trust each other enough to take the risks needed to shore up the economy, and the government had no authority to enforce these recommendations.
One bold move that Hoover took was crafting and signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. It was hoped that this protective tariff would help stabilize agricultural prices and create more stability on the global market. This proved to be a devastating miscalculation. The tariffs ended up backfiring as foreign markets passed their own reactionary tariffs limiting the importation of goods from the United States. This trade-war brought demand for US manufactured goods to even lower levels and accelerated the effects of the Great Depression.
Although Hoover had created several government assistance programs, he very quickly reversed course. Hoover was worried that providing financial and work assistance to Americans was adding too much to the federal deficit. He was also concerned that it was making Americans too dependent on the government. Overall, Hoover felt that local government and private charities should be responsible for providing this type of assistance. By eliminating federal assistance programs during the worst days of the Depression, Hoover left many of the most destitute Americans without the aid that they desperately needed.