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September 2015 - Volume 23, Number 3


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Reflecting on Labor Day

by John Hendrickson


Calvin Coolidge is most often remembered for his dry wit, silence, and conservative economic and foreign policies, but he is not often remembered as a friend of labor. Coolidge himself was an example of the Protestant work ethic, and he viewed work as honorable. As Coolidge stated:


I cannot think of anything that represents the American people as a whole so adequately as honest work. We perform different tasks, but the spirit is the same. We are proud of work and ashamed of idleness. With us there is no task which is menial, no service which is degrading. All work is ennobling and all workers are ennobled.[1]


Coolidge acknowledged the importance of Labor Day when he stated that “this high tribute is paid in recognition of the worth and dignity of the men and women who toil.”[2] Coolidge’s political and moral philosophy, along with his patriotism, formed his conservative worldview. He understood that having a successful economy and decent wages depended on following fiscal prudence. It also meant following a spirit of Americanism, as he stated:


We do not need to import any foreign economic ideas or any foreign government. We had better stick to the American brand of government, the American brand of equality, and the American brand of wages. America had better stay American.[3]


Coolidge argued that three policies helped in protecting the rise in American wages. These included “restrictive immigration,” a “tariff for protection,” and “economy of expenditure.”[4] Coolidge argued that “these are some of the policies which I believe we should support, in order that our country may not fail in the character of the men and women which it produces.”[5] Coolidge understood that if business was supported and encouraged by sound public policies it would “provide profitable employment.”[6] Coolidge also argued that he did “not want to see any of the people cringing suppliants for the favor of the Government, when they should be masters of their own destiny.”[7]


President Calvin Coolidge understood that following an economic policy rooted in constitutional limited government would provide the best opportunity for a strong and vibrant middle class. The Coolidge Administration is an example on how to not only support labor, but expand the American middle class.


[1] Calvin Coolidge, “Address delivered to a group of Labor Leaders, who called on the White House, September 1, 1924,” in Foundations of the Republic, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2004, p. 75.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 81.
[4] Ibid., pp. 83-84.
[5] Ibid., p. 85.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.


John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst at Public Interest Institute.


IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD is our quarterly economic forecast, arriving in February, May, August,
and November. It consists of statistics about and analysis of the Iowa economy.


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