Hey, readers of TheBlaze Books…did you catch Amity Shlaes, author of the brand-new book on President Calvin Coolidge, on The Glenn Beck Program? She shared with Glenn how Coolidge’s policies (especially spending cuts) led America to prosperity for most of the 1920s. You can check out the segment below.
Calvin Coolidge served as president from 1923 to 1929. He never rated highly in polls. The shy Vermont native, nicknamed “Silent Cal,” has long been dismissed as quiet and passive.
What’s more, history has remembered the decade in which he served as a frivolous, extravagant period predating the Great Depression.
But now, Amity Shlaes—known for her riveting, unexpected portrait of the 1930s (The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression)—provides a similarly fresh look at the 1920s and its elusive president.
Shlaes shows that the mid-1920s was, in fact, a triumphant period that established our modern way of life: the nation electrified, Americans drove their first cars, and the federal deficit was replaced with a surplus.
Shlaes joined Glenn on TheBlaze TV to discuss how Coolidge got it right economically:
Here’s Shlaes noting that Coolidge did what some might consider impossible today; he cut taxes and the federal budget. In other words, the Roaring ’20s didn’t just happen; Coolidge deserves a lot of the credit for the booming economy of that decade:
Check out this excerpt that gets to the heart of Coolidge’s successes:
Coolidge hacked away at the federal budget with a discipline tragically missing in his well-intentioned predecessor, Warren G. Harding. Coolidge vetoed fifty bills and turned down new spending, even for projects such as farm subsidies and construction of rural postal roads that would have immensely benefited the region from which he hailed.
The Coolidge budget was fundamentally different from our modern budgets in that military costs, veterans’ funding, and the national debt made up more than half of outlays. But the pressure to expand programs was as strong as it is today. Coolidge’s budget vigilance was so steadfast it lent itself to caricature; some artists depicted the thirtieth president as a Victorian throwback. The doyenne of the Washington social scene, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, repeated a line until it became famous: Coolidge looked as though he had been weaned on a pickle. A contemporary paper, the London Sunday Chronicle, even published a parody of A Christmas Carol with Coolidge in the part of Scrooge.
Yet if Coolidge was a Scrooge, he was a Scrooge who begat plenty.
Coolidge served for sixty-seven months, finishing out Harding’s term after Harding died in early August 1923 and remaining until early March 1929. Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell. Under Coolidge, the top income tax rate came down by half, to 25 percent. Under Coolidge, the federal budget was always in surplus. Under Coolidge, unemployment was 5 percent or even 3 percent. Under Coolidge, Americans wired their homes for electricity and bought their first cars or household appliances on credit. Under Coolidge, the economy grew strongly, even as the federal government shrank. Under Coolidge, the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dramatically. Under Coolidge, there came no federal antilynching law, but lynchings themselves became less frequent and Ku Klux Klan membership dropped by millions. Under Coolidge, a man from a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road into the air.
Under Coolidge, religious faith found its modern context: the first great White House Christmas tree was lit, an ingenious use for the new technology, electricity. Under Coolidge, the number of local telephone calls went up by a quarter. In Silent Cal’s time, Americans learned to chatter. Under Coolidge, wages rose and interest rates came down so that the poor might borrow more easily. Under Coolidge, the rich came to pay a greater share of the income tax.
How did the curse become a blessing? In World War I, government policy had been so dramatic that it was like a great pendulum, swinging wildly back and forth and intimidating those in its path. Coolidge reached out his hand and stilled the pendulum. Or, to put his achievement more simply, Coolidge kept government out of the way of commerce. When in 1929 the thirtieth president climbed onto a train at Union Station to head back home to Massachusetts after his sixty-seven months in office, the federal government was smaller than when he had become president in 1923.
Coolidge is an eye-opening biography of the little-known president behind an era of remarkable growth and national optimism.
Although Coolidge was sometimes considered old-fashioned, he advanced not only the automobile trade but also aviation through his spirited support of Charles Lindbergh.
In addition, Coolidge’s discipline and composure, Shlaes reveals, represented not weakness but strength. First as governor of Massachusetts then as president, Coolidge proved unafraid to take on the divisive issues of this crucial period, including:
- reining in public-sector unions
- unrelentingly curtailing spending
- rejecting funding for new interest groups.
Perhaps more than any other president, Coolidge understood that doing less could yield more. He reduced the federal budget during his time in office even as the economy grew, wages rose, tax rates fell, and unemployment dropped.
As a husband, father, and citizen, the thirtieth president made an equally firm commitment to moderation, shunning lavish parties and special presidential treatment; to him the presidency was not a bully pulpit but a place for humble service. Overcoming private tragedy while in office, including the death of a son, Coolidge showed the nation how to persevere by persevering himself.