Friday, November 20, 2015

An Amazing Moment in Economics: President Calvin Coolidge

Statistically, the Coolidge presidency is an outlier. Affectionately named ‘Silent Cal’ by the media and by the public, he managed simultaneously to reduce the national debt and to cut taxes.

Naturally, it is an oversimplification to give Coolidge alone the credit for this achievement. Congress was a necessary part of the process.

During the Coolidge years - he took office in August 1923 - the federal government’s budget was kept under control: in some years it grew a little, in other years, it actually shrank a bit. There were years of budget surplus.

Coolidge’s economic policies generated marked growth: wages rose, unemployed vanished. The benefits of this prosperity came to citizens at all income levels, especially those in the lower wage groupings.

Coolidge retained Andrew Mellon as Secretary of the Treasury. Historian Robert Ferrell writes:

The Mellon tax cuts favored “small Americans.” Seventy percent of the lost revenue under one Mellon proposal would have gone to taxpayers with incomes under $10,000 - the latter figure admittedly a handsome income in those days. Under the same proposal, the percentage going to taxpayers with incomes over $100,000 would have been 2.5.

The Coolidge administration can be seen as a continuation of the Harding administration; Andrew Mellon has been appointed by Harding. In 1920, the last year of the Wilson administration, the federal budget was a bloated $6,649,000,000 with a negligible surplus. By 1928, the last full year of Coolidge’s presidency, it was down to $3,900,000,000 with a surplus of $939,000,000.

Coolidge managed an amazing constellation of statistics: he cut the debt, he cut the budget and spending, he cut taxes, and he increased the surplus. Citizens in the lower wage brackets experienced significant increases in their wages and in the standards of living.

During the 1920s, the Coolidge administration reduced the debt, kept the budget flat, and brought in sufficient revenues through markedly reduced tax rates, both personal and corporate.

The prosperity of the 1920s ended when both Hoover and FDR turned a temporary downturn into an enduring depression by creating, for the first time in more than a decade, a deficit instead of a surplus, and then massively increasing spending, deficits, and taxes.

The presidency of Calvin Coolidge remains an economic landmark, both in American History and in World History.