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Prager University Video: Was Calvin Coolidge the Best President of the 20th Century?

The 1920s: when presidents said things like "It is more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones."

by
Amity Shlaes

Bio

March 11, 2013 - 2:05 pm
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Is Coolidge better than Reagan? On fiscal policies, perhaps. As president, Coolidge served five and a half years. When Coolidge left office, in 1929, the federal budget was lower than when he came in. Few other peacetimes presidents, not even Reagan, can boast this. In addition, the thirtieth president cut the top income tax rate to 25%, below Reagan’s storied 1986 rate of 28%. Where does Coolidge rank compared to other presidents, such as Lincoln, who also lost a son while in the White House? Watch the video and rate the chief executives yourself.

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See also at PJ Media: Ed Driscoll’s interview with Amity Shlaes about¬†Coolidge

Amity Shlaes has been a syndicated columnist for more than a decade. Bloomberg View carries her column. She directs the economic project at the Bush Center, the Four Percent Growth Project. Amity is committed to economic education. This department sponsors a national economic presidential debate program for varsity and new debaters. Watch footage here. For the past five years, Miss Shlaes has taught the economics of the 1930s in the MBA program at New York University/Stern. Until 2000, Miss Shlaes was member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, specializing in economics. In the early 1990s she served as the Journal's features, or "op ed" editor. Prior to that she followed the collapse of communism for the Wall Street Journal/Europe. Over the years she has published in the National Review, Forbes, the New Republic, Foreign Affairs (on the German economy), the American Spectator, the Suddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit. In 2002 she contributed an article on the US tax code to the thirtieth anniversary anthology of Tax Notes, the scholarly journal. Miss Shlaes is winner of the Hayek Prize and currently chairs the jury for the prize, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. She has twice been a finalist for the Loeb Prize in commentary. In 2002 she was co-winner of the Frederic Bastiat Prize, an international prize for writing on political economy. In 2003, she was JP Morgan Fellow for finance and economy at the American Academy in Berlin. In 2004, she gave the Bradley lecture at the American Enterprise Institute. Her lecture, titled "The Chicken vs the Eagle" looked at the effect of the National Recovery Administration on the entrepreneur in the New Deal. Miss Shlaes is the author of The Forgotten Man (2007), a national bestseller that National Review called "the finest history of the Great Depression ever written." The Forgotten Man is available in German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. She authored The Greedy Hand (Random House/Harvest paperback), a U.S. national bestseller on America's experience with its tax code. She is also the author of Germany: The Empire Within (Farrar, Straus), a book about German national identity. In 2004, she was, with the late Robert L. Bartley, co-author of the contribution on tax philosophy to "Turning Intellect to Influence," an anthology chronicling the progress of free-market ideas as advanced by the Manhattan Institute. Miss Shlaes is a trustee of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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I feel we need someone like him now, but who would that be? Even among the politicians I still like, I'm not sure that any would actually shrink the government and reduce the spending budget.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Silent cal has always been my favorite president. I'm glad he's finally getting the attention and admiration he's long deserved.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Those bad economic policies were instigated by Coolidge's Commerce Secretary, Hoover, who succeeded him as President. Of Hoover, Coolidge said, "That man has given me lots of economic advice... all of it bad."

Hoover continued in protectionism as President, and it was he who truly began the Great Depression. Hoover was a Progressive. FDR kept getting re-elected despite his mismanagement by campaigning against Hoover for years and years.

Obama got re-elected the same way, by campaigning against Bush. "It was worsse than we thought." "No one could have done any better." Notice how these are the statements of losers. Whine, whine, whine.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is good to see Silent Cal finally getting his due. The recent biography by Amity Shlaes is well worth reading. We live in a rather different world, but there is stil something to learn. Check iTunes to hear some recent interviews with Ms. Shlaes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
False nostalgia. I too suffer from it. I like Coolidge now a lot more than I ever did before, and I would prefer his governing philosophy over what we've had since (and before, if you count T. Roosevelt and Wilson). But the 20's were also the time of Prohibition. Granted, Coolidge couldn't do anything about that (but did he want to? Was he for or against it? I'll go look). Also, The Great Depression started just after his watch. There were bad economic and stock trade habits and legislation during Coolidge's presidency that contributed to the economic calamity -- could he have worked to alleviate or prevent that? Had he chosen to run for another term perhaps the depression would have been shorter, but he opted out.

He's also the guy who's supposed to have said that the Army Air Corps ought to just have one plane and take turns flying it. "Limited" government thinking should have some limits of its own as well. :-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"He's also the guy who's supposed to have said that the Army Air Corps ought to just have one plane and take turns flying it."

Now, this is my specialty so don't be quick to dismiss me here. Despite what Coolidge said, the Army Air Corps was in fact formed under his presidency. Coolidge gets a bad rap because he wanted Mitchell punished, but the truth was that Mitchell brought his court martial upon himself.

Many fuss because Coolidge didn't pursue the creation of an independent air force, but that simply wasn't practicable at the time. Even Hap Arnold, the father of the USAF, notes in his autobiography that keeping the air force in the Army was a logistical God-send throughout his entire period in the service. Remember that military funding - a Congressional measure - was dictated by the level of threat that the US faced, which in the 1920s, was quite small.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Coolidge did not care for Prohibition, but upheld it because it was now (at the time of his presidency) in the Constitution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Coolidge was the last American President who followed the Constitution's defined role for the Executive.
Yet, his use of radio made him more popular than Will Rogers, and he pioneered cultivation of the media.
It is unfortunate that Ms. Shlaes focuses on the Federal budget as a sign of greatness. When I wrote my short bio in 2004, I was most impressed by how Coolidge kept the USA out of war with Mexico, and how his 1924 speeches DID calm what was a very nasty electorate split by the Northern Klan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've been saying for a very long time, Reagan was great but Coolidge should be the real model for the conservative movement. He reduced taxes and the size of the federal government, and he managed to retire a sizeable portion of the national debt.

We get all excited about a proposed Ryan budget that balances in 10 years when we should be demanding a balanced budget every year, starting THIS year. We need people like Coolidge who act now, not 10 years from now.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A real key to understanding the basis of Mr. Coolidge's philosophy is his inauguration address ( 102 words! ) in which he he warned"Americans not to build up the weak by pulling down the strong." He also cautioned not to be in a hurry to legislate. And, his administration demonstrated a refusal by the government to become involved in labor disputes and felt that the public interests could never be threatened by a work stoppage. Today of course, a man like Mr. Coolidge would never even get past the primaries. His lack of accessability to the media and his disdain for playing the PR game, would get him eliminated from the competition immediately. So instead we have the "slick boys", the "suits' and the "haircuts" who mouth meaningless plattitudes ad infinitum and mucho ad nauseum.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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