On the Business of Self-Government


“Business” is often portrayed in singular fashion as white collar office jobs overseen by lucratively paid executives. One sector of a very diverse economy is thus peddled to represent everyone. It often fails to be noticed that business is everything our hands find to do not just what happens on Wall Street or in Manhattan high rises. It is blue collar, white collar or no collar. It is rural and urban. It is labor and capital. The medical and tech fields likewise are no less business. It is the small company and the large corporation. It is the manufacturing and service industries, clerical and trade, transportation and administration. All are business.

COVID-19 is reminding us, however, that our own homes demonstrate business on its most basic scale. Things may be crazy out there but we have been reminded that much more rests in our own hands to do than we have assumed was possible for some time. We have “farmed out” so many operations and functions that once took place in the home that it comes as a surprise to many that life still goes on, education (not always the same thing as school) and work continue, the business of living returns to our hands in greater proportion than we have known and yet, we increasingly find we can “swing it.” Self-government still works.


President and First Lady Coolidge, August 1923. Color tinting by Zeldave, 2014.

This was what struck Coolidge from the beginning: that each of us was still capable of being CEOs and Presidents of our own homes and families. It was obvious to him but now and again, the importance of that obviousness needs repeating. “If all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.” He knew it was true. He said that at the early stages of an economic depression that has become the foreboding monster of American history and public policy. This was not some rosy, facts-aside, pronouncement of sunshiny denial. He had seen some of the darkest days America has faced — world war, economic depression, and yes, even pandemic — and they were all weathered. He remained genuinely convinced that people could still govern themselves through these times as well and that, even with all our imperfections, we were up to the task. We could do it. We had the qualifications for the role. Our children would be fine. Life around the dinner table and family room would receive some needed focus and we would prove, perhaps most of all, to ourselves that we can live without many a component we thought was indispensable.

So, take a moment. Breathe. Just as there are times to deplete energy so there are times to restock and take inventory. Wise old Cal knew what can be found there in those stores of reserve power includes a reaffirmation that we are qualified to be free. He knew we are still worthy of self-government. Endless regulation and undying bureaucracy were not meant to dominate our future and inundate our existence. We can yet take charge of our lives capably, operate our households well, get back to basics, and enjoy the blessings of exercising some of that freedom we have, not always for the better, consigned to others.



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