by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Labeled “much needed,” “altogether admirable,” and “deeply researched,” Amity Shlaes‘ new biography of our nation’s 30th president attracts economic historian John Steele Gordon‘s attention in the latest issue of Commentary magazine (not yet posted online).
Gordon summarizes one of the most important accomplishments of the Calvin Coolidge administration, as documented in Shlaes’ book.
Coolidge continued Harding’s return to “normalcy” after the great disruption of World War I. (What he didn’t continue was Harding’s lackadaisical management style that bred corruption, and late-night poker parties and drinking.) For Coolidge, normalcy meant reduced government expenditures, budget surpluses, and lower taxes. He was utterly sincere when he famously said that “the chief business of the American people is business.” The best way for business, and thus the people, to prosper, thought Coolidge, was for government to intrude as little as possible.
He met with his budget director every week, for an hour and a half. Some cuts were big and some were small, such as saving $25,000 a year by having paper delivered to government printing plants on federal trucks. With his secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon, he cut tax rates. As a result, the government ran surpluses (the national debt, $22.3 billion when he became president, dropped to $16.9 billion five years later, a decline of almost 25 percent) and the economy boomed. The top income-tax rate dropped from 56 percent to 25 percent, and many at the bottom of the income scale now paid none at all by the end of his term.