In 1543 Spanish explorer Hernando Desoto encountered flooding on the Mississippi River at Memphis lasting more than 40 days. The next major flooding recorded from the annals of New Orleans came in late 1734 and lasted for six months. The 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed damaging floods early and often, but the granddaddy of all came in 1927.

In 1543 Spanish explorer Hernando Desoto encountered flooding on the Mississippi River at Memphis lasting more than 40 days. The next major flooding recorded from the annals of New Orleans came in late 1734 and lasted for six months. The 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed damaging floods early and often, but the granddaddy of all came in 1927.

The entire watershed became soaked during the previous summer, but during the first six months of 1927, the Mississippi expanded to widths of 60 to 80 miles for a length of 100 miles. With over 200 dead and millions of acres of farmland and towns devastated, something had to be done.

Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover quickly became a hero. He masterfully organized refugee camps for the displaced thousands across seven states. The engineer/administrator led the Coolidge administration and Republican Congress to enact the Flood Control Act of 1928, granting new power and responsibility to the Army Corps of Engineers to build today’s levee and spillway system.

Attacking and fixing such a massive problem thrust Hoover into the spotlight, the 1928 Republican ticket and the White House itself. While he compassionately managed the details of caring for African-Americans bearing the brunt of not only loss of life and property but forced labor to build levees, he promised them that he would also work to improve their living conditions as president. Consequently he won their vote.

Ever the progressive optimist, Hoover had thought he could promote and pass new civil rights legislation to bring blacks out of the indentured servitude still existing 60 years past emancipation. Congress would not have it. His promises thus broken, the black vote switched to Roosevelt, the first Democrat to pay even lip service to their plight.

So where is the tie-in to the economic world? As we see those same 80-year-old spillways used now to relieve pressure from the river inside its banks, causing yet millions of acres to be flooded, are we not reminded that we can have some effects upon our world but natural law remains unchanged? Building levees all the way up and down the river to prevent any flooding inevitably leads to less frequent but flooding of perhaps even greater magnitude.

Under the guise of controlling the economy, especially financial institutions, to prevent the inevitable winning and losing through normal cycles, we have managed to lengthen the time between massive downturns but to deepen the troughs. With many sectors of markets having almost recovered to 2007 levels, the financials remain about 57 percent under water and are clearly stalled. We could force these institutions to loosen standards to give away homes and loans to many, but we cannot force investors to trust that we are not just headed for another future, bigger flood of devastation.

As unfortunate as it might be, we cannot guarantee complete protection from flooding any more than we can ultimately prevent the principles of free-market economics from having their way.