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An inaugural speech worth listening to

Although I am interested in elections, I rarely feel moved to comment on them at all. But I understand that US voters go to the polls this week. Who can predict who they will elect?

Whoever may get elected, they will have to write an Inaugural Speech in January – and there are parts of this Inaugural from Calvin Coolidge, that some US taxpayers may feel merit a second airing…

When we turn from what was rejected to inquire what was accepted, the policy that stands out with the greatest clearness is that of economy in public expenditure with reduction and reform of taxation. The principle involved in this effort is that of conservation. The resources of this country are almost beyond computation. No mind can comprehend them. But the cost of our combined governments is likewise almost beyond definition. Not only those who are now making their tax returns, but those who meet the enhanced cost of existence in their monthly bills, know by hard experience what this great burden is and what it does. No matter what others may want, these people want a drastic economy. They are opposed to waste. They know that extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of their labor. I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

If extravagance were not reflected in taxation, and through taxation both directly and indirectly injuriously affecting the people, it would not be of so much consequence. The wisest and soundest method of solving our tax problem is through economy. Fortunately, of all the great nations this country is best in a position to adopt that simple remedy. We do not any longer need wartime revenues. The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny. Under this republic the rewards of industry belong to those who earn them. The only constitutional tax is the tax which ministers to public necessity. The property of the country belongs to the people of the country. Their title is absolute. They do not support any privileged class; they do not need to maintain great military forces; they ought not to be burdened with a great array of public employees. They are not required to make any contribution to Government expenditures except that which they voluntarily assess upon themselves through the action of their own representatives. Whenever taxes become burdensome a remedy can be applied by the people; but if they do not act for themselves, no one can be very successful in acting for them.

The time is arriving when we can have further tax reduction, when, unless we wish to hamper the people in their right to earn a living, we must have tax reform. The method of raising revenue ought not to impede the transaction of business; it ought to encourage it. I am opposed to extremely high rates, because they produce little or no revenue, because they are bad for the country, and, finally, because they are wrong. We can not finance the country, we can not improve social conditions, through any system of injustice, even if we attempt to inflict it upon the rich. Those who suffer the most harm will be the poor. This country believes in prosperity. It is absurd to suppose that it is envious of those who are already prosperous. 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 every one will have a better chance to be successful. The verdict of the country has been given on this question. That verdict stands. We shall do well to heed it.

They do not make politicians like this anymore, do they?

13 comments to An inaugural speech worth listening to

  • Kit

    The Mises blog has a battery of fine Silent Cal quotes.

    “We do not need more law.”

  • J

    My, how enlightened we were back then. What went wrong?


  • Luniversal

    Careful, chaps. If US presidents were still like Silent Cal, the country wouldn’t have the tax revenues or inclination to fight all those lovely wars of liberation!

    Coolidge was once presented with a walking stick. The guy offering him it gave a long oration about the properties of the mighty American oak from which this stick had been carved. Coolidge listened expresionlessly, examined the object briefly and replied “Ash”.

  • The liberals like to whine about the corporatist and evil Baal-worshipping angles (the only ones, to their mind) of Coolidge’s quote about the business of America being business. But have any of them ever read the full quote in its original context?

    “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. These are moving impulses of our life….Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort. In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it.”

    – Calvin Coolidge, Foundations of the Republic, 1926

  • Pete(Detroit)

    They do not make politicians like this anymore, do they?

    no, they sure don’t, sadly enough… even W, who’s taken steps to reduce taxes, has swollen the size of the Federal workforce what, 10% in 4 years? add to that raises, and bonuses, and DC is costing us nearly 25% more than it did under Bill Clinton… Yeesh!
    Quit the Freakin’ SPENDING!!!

  • This reminds us why one of the first things Ronald Reagan did when he moved into the White House was to hang up a picture of Silent Cal in the Oval Office.

  • Silent Cal is my all time favourite American politician, anyone know if he has a grandson who could be prevailed upon to run in 2008? Or maybe he can be cloned in time?

  • Andrew Robb

    “In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the encouragement of science, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture.”

    That can’t be said enough.

  • DS

    Calvin Coolidge was Ronald Reagan’s favorite president and probably the single most under-rated in history. Partially because he and his era (the roaring 20’s) spent decades being falsely blamed for the Great Depression and it’s aftermath. Of course everybody now knows that the Depression was caused by the ineptness of the Federal Reserve and made worse by the abandonment of Coolidge’s hands-off policies by his successor Herbert Hoover, not a continuation. Hoover believed in the same sort of governmental interference that FDR did, he just didn’t take it to the same extremes.

    Coolidge was famous for economy of words. My favorite anecdote about Coolidge involves a reporter asking him about a SUnday morning church service:

    Reporter: What did the preacher talk about today?

    CC: sin.

    Reproter: What did he say?

    CC: He was against it.

  • John Thacker


    Actually, federal taxes could be cut to the percentages enjoyed under Coolidge and the military still paid for; merely nearly everything else would be cut (and Coolidge would approve.)

    You do, however, remind one of another of Coolidge’s aspects, less celebrated by history. He famously refused to forgive any amount of the French and British debts from World War I, which many historians suggest made the French and British even more insistent on recovering reparations from Germany, and then (as Keynes and others would claim) this made World War II more likely.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Well, nobody’s perfect.


  • Euan Gray

    this made World War II more likely.

    The imposition of punitive reparations against Germany at the same time as the removal of the industrialised areas which could have earned the necessary money was probably a more important factor in the economic collapse of Germany, which in turn led to the rise of extremist parties, which in turn led to the second war. That, and the inability or unwillingness to see that the best way of making a former enemy into a friend is to help him to his feet, not tread on his economic neck until he chokes.

    It was Wilson’s fault, not Coolidge’s.


  • Euan Gray

    What went wrong?

    Welfare. It’s what you get when you allow unqualified democracy.