Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Calvin Coolidge leads the Roaring 20s

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
U.S. President (1923-1929)
Silent Calvin Coolidge became president in 1921 after the untimely death of Warren G. Harding. Calvin would see to it that the economic policies of his predecessor moved forward.  By doing so, he helped move the nation through the greatest period of economic prosperity in the history of the United States. 

John Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, to John and Victoria Coolidge.  He was painfully shy as a child, so much so that he had difficulty making friends. He was also afraid to talk to his teachers, and for this reason he struggled somewhat with his schooling.

While this was true, he proved to be a great public speaker, and perhaps for this reason he made a great lawyer and politician.  He learned about law by reading for a Northampton law firm, and in 1897 he earned a license to practice law.  He began his political career a year later when he was elected as Northampton city councilman.

In 1906 he was elected as a representative to the Massachusetts legislature, of which he served two terms.  While other republicans opposed the women's suffrage movement, Coolidge supported it. After taking a couple years off to spend time with his young family, in 1911 he was elected to the senate.  

As occurs many times in world history, what sets one person above another is being in the right place at the right time.  During his second year as senator, Coolidge was faced with the difficult task of dealing with the strike of textile workers from the mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. 

The strikers marched toward the mills in 1912 claiming that they were underpaid. It became so concerning that law officials of Lawrence called in the state militia to protect the mills and keep the peace. 

Coolidge was able to convince the mill to give a wage increase instead of a cut, and the strike was thereby called off.  This was a huge success for the young politician, as it would help set up the stage for his future success as a politician.

The Massachusetts Militia tries to keep order in Boston, 1918.
A similar event occurred in 1918 after Coolidge had been elected governor of Massachusetts.  The war had left many workers in the U.S. with low wages, and the police force of Boston was no different. They formed a union and went on strike.

Coolidge sided with the police officers, saying they deserved fair wages.  On the other hand, he thought it was dangerous for them to be on strike, because no one was defending the people.  So he called in 4,800 National Guard troops to police the city. With Coolidge's approval, the commissioner refused to rehire the striking workers and trained new officers were hired and trained to replace them.

When Samuel Gompers, leader of the Federal Labor Union, complained to Coolidge about the harsh treatment of striking police officers, Coolidge said, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."

The city of Boston agreed to provide its police force with large salary increases and improved working conditions.  Yet Coolidge's successful handling of the Boston Police Strike, and especially those 15 words to Gompers, gave Coolidge national recognition. 

Also setting the stage for his future success as a politician was the work of other politicians.  During the Great War the highest marginal income tax rate was increased to 74 percent in order to pay off the debt.  Although, after the country became embittered in a depression, there were calls by the public, media, nearly every republican, and some democrats to cut taxes in order to spur economic growth. 

Amid the depression of 1920-1921, republicans won both houses of Congress, and the executive -- Warren G. Harding was elected president -- in a landslide election. Cutting income taxes was at the top of the agenda.

Harding's secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon, was a strong proponent of cutting taxes, even going as far to say that taxes had become so high that many people found ways to get around paying, resulting in loss of revenue. Plus he believed the high tax rate was a burden to economic recovery and growth.

In April 11, 1921, Harding called for an extraordinary session of Congress to revise the federal revenue and tariff laws. There were some who called for significant tax cuts, although others noted the ongoing expenses of paying off debt accrued during WW1. 

Ultimately, the bill that was signed by Harding cut the top marginal tax rate from 74 to 58 percent.

After Harding died, Silent Calvin Coolidge saw to it that the economic policies of Harding were continued.  He would sign the Revenue Act of 1924 that reduced the top marginal rate to 46 percent, and the Revenue Act of 1928 that reduced this rate to 25 percent.

On top of this, Harding, before he died, was able to cut federal spending by 40 percent, making him, and Coolidge, the only presidents ever to reign in both spending and taxes after passages of the 16th amendment allowing Congress to levy taxes on individuals and corporations.  

As a result of the Harding/ Coolidge spending and tax cuts, what occurred over the next several years was nothing short of amazing, and a quintessential example of what would ultimately be referred to as Supply-Side economics. 

Between 1921 and 1928 , revenue to the government rose from $719 million to $1164 million, or a whopping 61 percent.   So, through the hard work of both Harding and Coolidge, the 1920s was the greatest period of economic expansion in the history of the United States.  

The economy during the 1920s grew faster than any time in American history up to that time, and America became the richest country in the world. The stock market and land values soared, and there were more rich people than ever before.

Yet while the rich got richer, the middle class got richer and so to did the poor. The great part about this all was that it happened not by pushing forth progressive tax and spend programs, and not by robbing Peter to pay Paul, but by reducing the size and scope of the government, thus creating opportunities for all.  

People were happy during the 1920s, and this is best shown by songs such as "Happy Days are Here Again," by Richard Alger and Jack Yellen.

Without the burdens of government regulations and taxes, businesses had abundant resources to invent, create and produce. They were able to expand their inventories, build new buildings, and hire new workers.  The result was the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the United States.

Many corporations and individuals were raking in money like never before, and they obtained this money as a bi-product of the soaring economy. 

These excellent free market conditions lead to the Industrial Revolution, where entrepreneurs like Henry Ford were able to mass produce goods and services and make them abundantly available to the public at a decent price.  Skyscrapers were rising. Factories were becoming a common site,  and were hiring unskilled workers at a record pace. 

Electric appliances were making their way into homes, such as the dishwasher and washing machines, thus allowing women to finally get out of the homes and into the workplace.  This helped spawn the woman's movement which lead to women's suffrage.

It was during this time that luxuries such as the radio and telephone became common household objects, and vehicles such as the Model T were being purchased by people who never thought they'd ever be able to afford such a luxury.

In essence, this was the first time in American history where average Americans, even those who just a few years earlier were not very well off, were making enough money to not just to afford food and clothing, but material and luxury items to help them fully enjoy life (selfish things for selfish reasons).

Overall, there were plenty of jobs for everyone.  The rich got richer.  The middle class got richer.  The poor got richer.  And not only that, with the superfluous flow of money, people were happy too, hence the song: Happy Days Are Here Again.

Never before had there been a period of economic growth as what occurred during the Roaring 20s.  The gain in overall standard of living was unmatched by any historical period ever. 

This was called the roaring 20s. People were having fun, and it was the result of freeing society from the burdens of federal regulations and taxes.  It was an idea conceived by great men like Andrew Mellon and signed into law by great men such as Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.