Friday, February 24, 2012

Coolidge: Loved and Hated

Many older U.S. History textbooks still look at the presidency of Calvin Cooldge (1923 - 1929) unfavorably. This outdated view of one of America's greatest leaders is a hangover from the radicalism of the 1960's, when many leaders were denigrated simply because they were leaders. Contemporary historians take a more nuanced view of Coolidge. Ann Coulter writes that

Coolidge cut taxes, didn't get the country in any wars, cut the national debt almost in half, and presided over a calm, scandal-free administration, a period of peace, 17.5 percent growth in the gross national product, low inflation (.4 percent) and low unemployment (3.6 percent).

But let Coolidge speak for himself. On August 11, 1924, he gave a speech, in which he analyzed what would be necessary for the nation to make the kind of progress which would benefit all Americans at all income levels. He said:

This country needs every ounce of its energy to restore itself. The costs of government are all assessed upon the people. This means that the farmer is doomed to provide a certain amount of money out of the sale of his produce, no matter how low the price, to pay his taxes. The manufacturer, the professional man, the clerk, must do the same from their income. The wage earner, often at a higher rate when compared to his earning, makes his contribution, perhaps not directly but indirectly, in the advanced cost of everything he buys.

Coolidge saw that government was a burden upon people, and that taxation would slow the nation's ability to foster its own growth. To create prosperity for the ordinary person, government should get out of the way, lower taxes, and curtail its activities. Such a policy allows the economy to grow at maximum pace. The president continued:

The expenses of government reach everybody. Taxes take from everyone a part of his earnings and force everyone to work for a certain part of his time for the government.

President Coolidge saw that we cannot tax only a part of the population. It is an illusion to think that we can "tax the rich" or "tax the north" or "tax the south" or "tax young" or "tax the old" - a tax on anyone will result in a burden for everyone. If one person pays taxes, that is money taken out of the productive economy, and the ripple effect goes through all sectors of the nation.

When we come to realize that the yearly expenses of the governments of this country - the stupendous sum of about 7 billion, 500 million dollars — we get 700 million dollars — is needed by the national government, and the remainder by local governments. Such a sum is difficult to comprehend. It represents all the pay of five million wage earners receiving five dollars a day, working 300 days in the year. If the government should add 100 million dollars of expense, it would represent four days more work of these wage earners. These are some of the reasons why I want to cut down public expense.

Government expenses in Coolidge's day were small compared to later years, but in either case, the government repented a huge drag on the any productive worker. The amount of time - for money is time - consumed by the government, when measured in the labor of ordinary people, is breathtaking. Millions of working women and men are denied the wages which are rightfully theirs, because the taxes confiscate them. Coolidge's economic insights made him a excellent leader. What was a minor fluctuation in the economy became the Great Depression because later leaders did not follow Coolidge's example.