The Economy in Perspective

Article excerpt

Taking care of business ... In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge told the Society of American Newspaper Editors that the business of America is business. Coolidge, who was president from 1923 to 1928, succeeded to the office after the death of Warren G. Harding, whose administration had been rocked by the Teapot Dome and other scandals involving improper contracts with private businessmen. Coolidge had a sterling reputation for honesty and earned sufficient public trust to be elected to a full term in 1924. Cautious about extending the federal government's authority into matters of banking and commerce, he maintained a laissez-faire philosophy and a pro-business agenda during a period of national prosperity. Later, historians would fault him for not taking stronger action to temper the stock market boom of the Roaring Twenties; whether he had sufficient moral or legal authority to have prevented the 1929 stock market collapse remains a debatable point today.

Americans have had an on-again, off-again attitude about government's relationship to business, One anchoring principle has been respect for private property and individual initiative; but another has been a sense of fair play and a resentment of concentrated power. At various times in our nation's history, the clockworks have been judged out of synch, and governmental power has been expanded or contracted to recalibrate the national balance wheel.

When Calvin Coolidge spoke to the newspaper editors in 1925, he was ruminating on the question of the press' ability to serve the public interest at a time when some newspapers were owned by large and powerful corporations (deja vu!), His exact words were, "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 people will always find these are moving impulses of our life." Speaking several decades after Theodore Roosevelt took action against big business combinations, Coolidge continued to believe that Americans were, by nature, predisposed to favor private enterprise as an engine of growth and a way of organizing economic life. …


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