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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Words from the President Who Achieved Economic Excellence without Sacrificing Freedom

Image credit: Library of congress

On July 4th, Americans celebrate our freedoms. Unfortunately, we all but ignore the only President born on Independence Day—Calvin Coolidge, who, though denigrated by historians, produced remarkable results without sacrificing them. 

Coolidge cut tax rates, tax rolls and the federal debt. America prospered. Real economic growth under Coolidge averaged 7% (the highest on record), with 0.4% inflation and 3.3% unemployment. But Hoover (who Coolidge said “offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad”) abandoned those policies for increased trade barriers and tax rates, which, along with monetary blunders, ushered in the Great Depression.

Silent Cal was also far from silent in following our founders’ insights, which can still profit us:

There is no substitute for a militant freedom. The only alternative is submission and slavery.”

“There is no greater service we can render…than to maintain inviolate the freedom of our own citizens.”

“There is no justification for public interference with purely private concerns.”

“All liberty is individual liberty.”

“The individual has rights…And the protection of rights is righteous.”

“When once the right of the individual to liberty and equality is admitted, there is no escape from the conclusion that he alone is entitled to the rewards of his own industry.”

“The property of the people belongs to the people. To take it from them by taxation cannot be justified except by urgent public necessity. Unless this principle be recognized, our country is no longer secure, our people no longer free.”

“I want the people of America to be able to work less for the Government …to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom.”

“Unfortunately the Federal Government has strayed far afield from its legitimate business…confine our Federal expenditures to the legitimate obligations and functions of the Federal Government…the fabric of our constitutional form of government…tends to be gradually weakened and undermined by this encroachment.”

“We cannot improve the condition of the people or reform human nature by intruding the Nation into the affairs of the States or despoiling the people of their business.”

“I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country.”

“An expanding prosperity requires that the largest possible amount…be invested in productive enterprise under the direction of the best personal ability. This will not be done if the rewards of such action are largely taken away by taxation.”

“The wise and correct course to follow in taxation and all other economic legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured success but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful.”

“After order and liberty, economy is one of the highest essentials of a free government.”

“I favor the policy of economy…because I wish to save people…Economy is idealism in its most practical form.”

“The success of the Government does not lie in wringing all the revenue it can from the people, but in making their burden as light and fairly distributed as possible.”

“Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.”

“The people cannot look to legislation generally for success.”

“We have got so many regulatory laws already…we would be just as well off if we didn’t have any more.”

“Whenever the state of the Treasury can permit, I believe in a reduction of taxes. But I am not advocating tax reduction merely for the benefit of the taxpayer; I am advocating it for the benefit of the country.”

Calvin Coolidge closely adhered to America’s founding principles, making Independence Day an appropriate time to rediscover his understanding that ubiquitous government intervention in our lives is a massive and growing problem, not a panacea.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).