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Interview: Amity Shlaes Discusses Coolidge (With Transcript)

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, does the book go into how Coolidge's reputation has risen in the last fifteen to twenty years?

MS. SHLAES:  No, not at all.


MS. SHLAES:  Because I don't do any historiography.  There's wonderful historiography done starting with [Thomas B. Silver].  Maybe you have that book?  I'm staring at my shelf of my Coolidge-iana (sic) to see if it's here.  But [Silver] is a book about Coolidge and historians that was written I think out of Claremont.  There are some wonderful Coolidge scholars over there.  And there are a few other books.  There's a pretty good book by -- I like -- I will say more than pretty good,  great book by Sobel focusing just on economics.  Unfortunately, Mr. Sobel died.  And this is a book I looked at more than ten years ago with Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal.

And, you know, there have been other things since then.  My friend, Dave Pietrusza, does wonderful almanacs and analyses of Coolidge, and I know a wonderful Coolidge impersonator, Jim Cooke.

So, you know, this is all going on.  But he hasn't been revised anywhere near as much as upward as he should be.  The correction has just begun, Ed.

I know you were going to ask about World War -- about the depression and World War II, Ed --

MR. DRISCOLL:  Uh-huh.

MS. SHLAES:  -- and whether Coolidge is to blame for that.  And here's what I have to say, Ed.  This is the prequel book, you said it right, to Forgotten Man which is about the '30s.  So the '30s shows how government made it worse.  That's really what The Forgotten Man is about.  Government made things worse.  Whether it was Hoover or Roosevelt, you can trace some of it back to the '20s, the causes of the Great Depression, particularly foreign material.  You know, UK went on the gold standard, off the gold standard.  Germany's trouble and so on.  But not too much.  It's very hard to hang the blame for the Great Depression.  Its duration; its severity.  Remember eleven years un-Coolidge.  Everyone knew that the stock market was too high in 1929 including Coolidge, who bought -- tried to buy depression-proof stocks, and I have some of his stock records to see that.

He didn't believe, and there's an argument he was right, that it was the job of the a federal government to manage the stock market or even the money; the Fed was supposed to do that.

So he thought there would be more damage if the government got involved, long term -- more damage long term.  It might look good if the government went in and rescued, but longer term you'd have trouble.  And that -- there's a pretty good case for that -- that argument.

So it's hard to hang on him.  He was morose, in fact, because he thought a downturn would give authority to the Progressives and undo some of his own work.  Or, you know, take down the dams he had built.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Amity, last question.  The Forgotten Man was published in 2007, and the American people elected a president who fancies himself the second coming of FDR a year later.  How likely are we to see the second coming of Coolidge, or at least someone who is reasonably responsible in terms of spending and regulation, anytime soon?

MS. SHLAES:  No, more likely than we know.  I mean, the Progressives thought they ruled in 1919.  They never thought anyone but the Progressives would ever win again.  And they had angry soldiers on their side.  Much worse than, you know, Occupy Wall Street.  They had riots in our cities and the conservatives were cowering in the corner.

But the concern about prosperity was there, and eventually people thought well, who will help with business, at least make it normal.  We mentioned normalcy.  And then they looked around, and suddenly more -- let's say, more economically oriented, less intrusive candidates began to seem attractive.  That was Harding-Coolidge.  And lo and behold, Republicans were elected; could've been conservative Democrats, happened to be Republicans.  There's a nice book about how all the candidates in '20 were relatively conservative.

So the country had a second thought after the Progressive impulse and the mess.  And then Coolidge was one of the products of that or, you know, and that could change.  We have plenty of candidates who care about budgets.  And there's no, you know, there's no candidate -- Coolidge can't reach out from the grave and nominate people now.  But the one candidate who kind of reminds me of Coolidge is Paul Ryan.  And it's a shame that when we look at the GOP the past year we say Paul Ryan didn't help, we should soften Paul Ryan.  I think Paul Ryan was very strong.  And if Paul Ryan had had more, you know, more pride of place, people would've listened a little harder to the Republicans.  That's my view.

People do know, and especially young people who will be paying, that debt will be a problem.  Debt is the number one problem for the United States.  It doesn't seem like that now, but they know it's coming.  And they will look for a candidate who cares about debt.  And they will understand that government austerity doesn't always mean terrible -- doesn't always mean -- there's nothing more punitive about it than lying which is the current -- the current posture.  Let's pretend we don't have a problem and pretend we like you.  Sometimes government austerity benefits people.

I want to mention one thing.  I said “Silber's” name wrong; it's Silver, and Coolidge and the Historians is his book.  We must be respectful of the people who went before us, especially those who wrote about this wonderful man, Calvin Coolidge.

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com and we've been talking with Amity Shlaes, the author of Coolidge.  It's published by HarperCollins and due out on February 12th at Amazon.com and your local bookstore.

And Amity good luck with the new book, and thank you once again for stopping by.

MS. SHLAES:  Oh, thank you.

(End of recording)

Transcribed by eScribers.net; with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll.

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