Book reviews, when done well, can provide useful history lessons in and of themselves.
“Mr. Coolidge’s hallmark was distrust of government. He saw it as an entity that uses ‘despotic exactions’ (taxes) that sap individual initiative and prosperity across the board …” according to publication.
“Coolidge learned at first towards the surging progressive movement, which supported state intervention and union involvement in the economy,” the review adds. “But his views shifted when he saw what those ideas meant in practice.”
The Economist is not noted for being a publication of a particularly libertarian bent by any means, but it recognizes Coolidge’s achievements during his five-and-a-half years as president, during which American debt fell by one-third, the tax rate by half and unemployment dropped precipitously. It’s unfortunate that more Americans haven’t taken note of Coolidge’s accomplishments.
While no means perfect, Coolidge offers an interesting counterbalance to FDR and his New Deal approach.
One of the great myths of American history is that President Herbert Hoover was a proponent of laissez-faire economics, and that his purported hands-off approach led the US to economic ruin.
In fact, Hoover was anything but hands off once the economy began tanking in 1929, and his meddling made things far worse than they otherwise would have been.
According to economist Murray Rothbard, the government under Hoover embarked on the “Hoover New Deal,” an anti-depression program marked by extensive governmental economic planning and intervention – including bolstering of wage rates and prices, expansion of credit, propping up of weak firms, and increased government spending (e.g., subsidies to unemployment and public works).
“Hoover, from the very start of the depression, set his course unerringly toward the violation of all the laissez-faire canons,” according to Rothbard. “As a consequence, he left office with the economy at the depths of an unprecedented depression, with no recovery in sight after three and a half years, and with unemployment at the terrible and unprecedented rate of 25 percent of the labor force.”
Using cotton as a key ingredient in road building seems difficult to fathom today but during the 1930s it was all the rage, at least for a short while.
Part of the reason was that because in the midst of the Great Depression there was an abundance of three things: Unemployed Americans, cotton and roads that needed to either be built or refurbished. Someone somewhere came up with the idea of combining the three.
Hence, for some time, cotton roads were said to be the wave of the future, and the soft, fluffy staple fiber became a major element in road building across a good part of the US.
The idea apparently came about when a New Deal entity called the Agricultural Adjustment Administration sought ways to increase consumption of American cotton, the price of which had been driven down through overproduction.
A perplexing question to some of us born long after Franklin Roosevelt’s reign as president ended is how a man who enlarged the powers of the federal government beyond anything even considered previously, built up labor unions, slowed long-term economic growth and weakened business was able to acquire such a cult of personality?
Author Mark Thornton says the answer is simple, if counterintuitive to many today: ”In (Roosevelt’s) first 30 days, he did more to bring liberty to Americans than any president since Thomas Jefferson repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts.”
Inaugurated on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt dealt with the banking crisis and the budget during his first week on the job.
Then, on March 13, he called on Congress to repeal Prohibition and 1o days later signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale in the United States of beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent.