Mr. Hendrickson of the Tax Education Foundation (Iowa) has some very timely reminders from the steady fiscal restraint demonstrated by Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. While America’s debt continues to climb, there remains a persistent aversion to dealing with it while at the same time a deeply-seated simplistic and unfounded fear that the 20s either have nothing to teach us or teach us only failure and disaster, encapsulated in the old, cliched catchphrases and campaign trail bogeymen of supposed “income inequality,” fake prosperity, and predestined crash.
While these myths have been addressed on this blog throughout the years, Mr. Hendrickson reminds us of a different lesson gleaned from the fiscal policy of Harding & Coolidge years: It took real work. As it has been easy to deride and caricature, we find the restraint shown by Harding and Coolidge was anything but easy, requiring instead intense focus and persistent effort. We mock that at our own peril. No one is seriously making the case that we can or should return to the 1920s, as if the whole slew of events that brought subsequent depression and suffering are directly attributable to the success of the Harding-Coolidge exercise of restraint. None of it was foregone, whatever “experts” claim.
Our mistake now, a short-sightedness that will reap far more catastrophic results, is in deriding those who had the discipline and perseverance to face squarely the debt problem, who demonstrated the will to oppose wasteful expenditure, and hold back the forces pandering to the “party cruise” mentality as it incessantly beat at the door through both administrations. The example of Harding and Coolidge to show restraint presents a reminder that peace and plenty are always fleeting but the nation is best prepared when it confronts its debt responsibly and redeems the time, when things are good, to set its house in order. The rain clouds will not be held back by our ambivalence. If we fail to learn from the success of their restraint, we cannot blame them for our neglect, we can only blame ourselves and the future will most certainly pay the price.