Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Dose of Silent Cal

Entering into the Fourth of July weekend, I find myself wondering what, during the economic doldrums, will make a for a good JGAH post to bolster the spirit of our patrons here. Steven Hayward, writing over at the great Powerline blog, shows the way, with a great piece on one of my all time favorite politicians, Calvin Coolidge.

A couple of Obama-like self indulgent thoughts, if I may.

Frequent patrons of JGAH may have noticed over the years that the relationship between capitalism, the creation of wealth, and class mobility are big themes to me. It is of critical importance, in my mind, to have a sound understanding of how each of those concepts work together with freedom of the individual to enable one to make a better life for himself. One of the most romantic concepts in modern times to me is the concept of massing wealth through acting in self interest, and how society as a whole benefits from this. The wealthier I become, the more I invest to grow my wealth and the more I consume with my wealth, the more jobs and opportunities are created for those around me. Coming soon to JGAH is going to be my commencement address to my alma mater, should they ever invite me. The theme: "Give back to the community by amassing an obnoxious amount of wealth and spending it." I'm not kidding.

The second Obama-like "me rant" is this: you may have also noticed that I also have an enormously low pain threshold for narcissistic, power-whorish politicians. Our founders knew oh-too-well the dangers of powerful policy makers. Politicians that whore themselves out for re-election represent a danger to the health and well being of a society. They prey on the ignorance of an electorate by fostering bogus notions of well being based on misinformation. No where is this more apparent than the Democratic Party's fetish with class warfare. The insinuation put forth by power whore Democrats is that the rich are rich at YOUR expense, that they are hoarding wealth, keeping it for themselves at the expense of the downtrodden. Envy is a sin that is an easy trap to fall into, it seems to be a central component of human nature.

I've went on this rant before and in celebration of the Fourth of July and our study of Coolidge, it bears repeating: Wealth is not a fixed pie that is to be shared equally at the oversight of the local Democratic politician. Wealth is created, theoretically infinitely, by people acting in self interest. Rags to riches stories are common in this country, not because of a benevolent Democrat whoring himself out with redistributive promises. They are common because free people with ambition and nothing are empowered by Freedom and Capitalism and protected by the rule of law to amass wealth for themselves. They amass this wealth by providing goods, services, and ideas that are valued by others.

There is a class of politicians, predominately in the Democratic Party, who see understanding of this as an anathema to their political empires. Either they themselves don't understand this concept, or, in a more sinister fashion, they do and simply feel threatened by the possibility of losing class envy as one of their most effective vehicles of political victory. I've heard a lot of arguments over the last 20 years against Term Limits, and none of them are convincing. "Citizen legislators", who go to public office to actually make a difference, and then return to their lives back at home to live under the laws they impose on others - these are the types of politicians our Founders could live with. If a guy wants to go to Washington because he's passionate about his Leftist beliefs, and serves his fixed term and returns to the life from which he came; I can respect him. I may disagree vehemently about his world view and his agenda, but I appreciate the concept of his being a "citizen legislator". We need more of that, and Term Limits are a great way to ween out the power whores who feed on public ignorance to build their own political empires from the people who will serve in public office in a fashion that the Framers intended. We'll all benefit as a result. I feel bile rushing up my esophagus when I hear a Power Whore Politician refer to himself as a "public servant". What tripe, he's there to serve himself.

Which brings us back to why Calvin Coolidge is worth discussing today. Of the two hangups that I have about politicians listed above, Coolidge stood as a living example of the antithesis of both. There is a story of Coolidge that is legendary, and stands as an example of why he was called "Silent Cal". The story goes that as President, Coolidge and his wife, Grace, were hosting a couple of local women for dinner. One woman bet the other that she could get Coolidge to say more than three words in succession. After multiple attempts, the betting woman came forward to the President and told him of the bet. His response was typical Coolidge: "You Lose."

Another great Coolidge story is his silent contempt for Herbert Hoover. Popular Leftist Lore is that Hoover was indistinguishable in his attitude toward economy and governance from Coolidge. The reality, however, is that FDR's New Deal was little more than Hoover's Policy on steroids. Hoover expanded government outlays greatly upon succeeding Coolidge. And its this mentality that prompted Coolidge's contempt for his successor, referring to him often as "wonderboy" and stating that Hoover had given him "unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad."

But its not just his demeanor as the "unpolitician" that makes Silent Cal's legacy so desirable.... his economic world view, based on his public utterances and executive action, prompt praise.

Hayward quotes Coolidge in his piece extensively, and its worth repeating. Bold Emphasis mine.

"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. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of our people will always find 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, and 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."

I about came out of my seat when I read the part emphasized. More, and this is fitting given the holiday (also, bold emphasis mine):

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."

I've often said on these pages those contemporary American Leftists who refer to themselves as "progressive" are anything but, and Coolidge seems to agree.

After reading Hayward's piece I wandered into my library and dug up my copy of Presidents: Every Question Answered by Carter Smith (as an aside, great read. Wonderful entertainment for a rainy day if you're trapped inside). I can recall first reading Coolidge's 1925 inaugural address, listed in the back of the Smith book more than five years ago. Fist pumps abounded on discovery, its amazing how timeless Coolidge's words are. Some of my favorite excerpts:

"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." (Coolidge also goes on to add, interestingly, "... they ought not be burdened with a great array of public employees." hmmm)

"The method of raising (tax) 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..." Art Laffer, is that you?? ... "because they are bad for the country, and finally, because they are wrong. We cannot finance the country, we cannot 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."

Fist pump, 1925 style, hallelujah.

So, as we celebrate the birth of the United States of America, I hope we'll draw from one of my favorite former Presidents a bit of wisdom. It is not policy that creates wealth and prosperity. It is not government action that creates wealth and prosperity. It is not a politician riding on a white horse promising social justice that creates wealth and prosperity.

No, prosperity comes from Freedom, Capitalism, the Rule of Law, and most of all, the desire to be wealthy. Workaholism, ingenuity, and desire fueled by the aforementioned. In short, people attempting to get rich or richer. That's worth celebrating this Independence Day. And the wonks in government, desperate to get our economy going again, would do well to heed Coolidge's words.

Happy Fourth of July.