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Ed Driscoll

Amity Shlaes’ Next Book To Focus on The Forgotten President

March 27th, 2012 - 10:33 pm

In 2007, Amity Shlaes memorably placed the story of The Depression into a modern context in 2007′s The Forgotten Man, along with its focus on Hoover and FDR and the impact in human terms of their disastrous decisions. For her next book, she’s taking on the story of their immediate predecessor, Silent Cal. According to Amazon’s coming soon list for the Kindle, on June 26th (in a date that could very well be subject to change), Amity Shlaes next book will be Coolidge.

In February, Shlaes discussed what made the 30th president such an intriguing figure:

Shlaes became interested in Coolidge while writing her 2007 book The Forgotten Man about the Great Depression.

“Working on that book I realized that Coolidge is the forgotten president,” she said. “Which is unfortunate because when he left office the federal government was smaller than when he entered it. The economy was growing at four percent annually, taxes were low, and the budget was balanced.”

Coolidge wasn’t your typical politician, Shlaes says.

“We think of politicians as active. We want a superman as president. But there’s another model posed by Coolidge. He achieved by inaction.

“He was the great refrainer. If he was a sport it would be wind surfing. It looks easy but it’s very difficult. It takes lots of core strength, lots of balance. His political strength was concentrated on resistance rather than acquiescence.”

A native of Vermont, Coolidge seems the very essence of New England Yankee reticence.

Shlaes believes that was a role he consciously adopted.

“Coolidge was a ham who played to that classic New England type. It was politically expedient because it allowed him to turn people down more easily.”

Coolidge said “no” in many ways.

“He used the veto a lot,” Shlaes says. “He had this concept that entitlements were wrong. He vetoed agricultural subsidies, even though he was from a farming community.

“He vetoed bonuses for veterans of World War I. Now that may not have worked out for individual veterans, but it was good for the overall economy. It meant that those veterans’ family members could find jobs.”

Coolidge is often regarded as having a 19th century mentality, but Shlaes notes that he was progressive and modern in many areas.

As a Republican he decried racism as being at odds with the essential aims of American democracy.

That puts him one up on both Wilson and FDR. And given some of his mentors and statements, perhaps our current president as well. And speaking of 2012 and its echoes of the past, in a recent column at Bloomberg, Shlaes writes, “Watch Bernanke’s ‘Little’ Inflation Capsize U.S.:”

A little is all right. That’s the message Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has been giving out recently when asked about the evidence of inflation in the U.S. recovery.

Sometimes Bernanke doesn’t even go that far. He simply says he doesn’t see inflation. The Fed chairman recently described the prospects for price increases across the board as “subdued.”

“Sudden” is more like it. The thing about inflation is that it comes out of nowhere and hits you. Monetary policy is like sailing. You’re gliding along, passing the peninsula, and you come about. Nothing. Then the wind fills the sail so fast it knocks you into the sea. Right now, the U.S. is a sailboat that has just made open water, and has already come about. That wind is coming. The sailor just doesn’t know it.

“Sudden” has happened to us before. In World War I, an early version of what we would call the CPI-U, the consumer price index for urban areas, went from 1 percent for 1915 to 7 percent in 1916 to 17 percent in 1917. To returning vets, that felt awful sudden.

How did it happen? The Treasury spent like crazy on the war, creating money to pay for it, then pretended that its spending was offset by complex Liberty Bond sales and admonishments to citizens that they save more.

Say, that last item rings a bell: Reason’s Hit & Run blog has your “Photo of the Day: Remember When Ads Tried to Get You to Spend?

We’ve clearly turned some corner in the dumbification of America when ad campaigns stop trying to pry us from our natural thrift in order to encourage spending, and instead try to put across thrift as a novel and exciting concept. But the issue isn’t that we lack financial literacy. It’s that our actual experience of the dollars in our pockets is teaching us all the wrong lessons.

One more book listed as coming on June 26th — from the sublime 30th president to his ridiculous modern successor, Hugh Hewitt’s next book is also listed at Amazon: The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency.

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