In school, I liked math the least and history the most. Both can be useful in the coming debate over President Trump’s proposed tax reforms.
The one thing I learned in math class is that if the formula is wrong, the answer will be wrong. In history class I learned we are not the first people to occupy the planet and that the experiences of those who came before us can be helpful when considering contemporary issues.
Since the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the left has presented government as the answer to every problem. The increasing taxes needed to finance that whimsy saddles hardworking taxpayers with the burden of paying a modern-day version of Roman tribute to inept rulers never satisfied with the amount. Failure, of course, never seems to be a reason to slow government growth, much less reduce its size and reach. For the left, any failure is attributed to the evil rich who don’t pay enough.
There is another formula which, when tried, has succeeded. It worked for John F. Kennedy, who cut taxes; ditto for Ronald Reagan (yes, he also raised taxes but by then, economic growth was such that they did not have a negative effect).
And it worked for Calvin Coolidge whose philosophy, life and presidency has much to teach us today, but those addicted to government need to go to rehab to break their reliance on Washington and improve their lives.
In Robert Sobel’s biography, “Coolidge: An American Enigma,” these quotes from the 30th president are highlighted: “I am convinced that the larger incomes of the country would actually yield more revenue to the government if the basis of taxation were scientifically revised downward.”
That was Reagan’s belief long before supply-side economics” acquired its name.
Then there is this Coolidgeism: “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom. Until we can re-establish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very distinct curtailment of our liberty.”
About public debt, which has just passed $20 trillion and would have appalled him, Coolidge said: “Public debt [is] a burden on all the people.” Coolidge left office with a surplus.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, has brought out the familiar liberal playbook, demonizing the “rich” and claiming they will benefit most from any tax cut. People who have acquired their wealth honestly through hard work and wise decisions should be role models, not demonized as if they have stolen from others.
President Trump should start reading the indecipherable tax code aloud at public events and say, “This is what your Congress has done to you.” He should bring people on stage to tell their stories of how high taxes have harmed, even ruined, their businesses. These should include people who have lost family farms handed down through generations because of the estate, or “death tax,” which forced them to sell the land in order to pay the government.
Public testimonies can be more effective than debating economic philosophy.
Washington always assumes we aren’t sending it enough of the money we earn. President Trump should say we are going to start telling Washington how much of our money we intend to let them spend.
The left hasn’t had a new economic idea in 70 years. Its old idea of more taxation and spending is the wrong formula, and it’s producing harmful results. History can show us a better way. We can start with Coolidge.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).
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