Remembering President Warren G. Harding


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The Nov. 2 election was a historic event that will have ramifications for politics and policy. But the date is also historic because it is the birthday (Nov. 2, 1865) of President Warren G. Harding and the day he was elected President (Nov. 2, 1920) by a landslide majority of 60 percent of the popular vote and 404 Electoral College votes.

Harding entered office facing an economic crisis — the depression of 1920, an economic downturn that saw double-digit unemployment. His response to the depression of 1920 was to stimulate the private sector of the economy by cutting tax rates, slashing government spending, paying down the national debt, and eliminating excessive regulations. Today, just as in November 1920, the nation needs to return to policies rooted in the Constitution. Harding has left a solid economic record that is an example for policymakers to use in restoring the national economy.

The national economy is still fighting to emerge into recovery in the aftermath of the "Great Recession." Unemployment still stands at 9.6 percent, and uncertainty over the policies of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress are stalling recovery. The cause of the uncertainty in the economy is due to the increase in regulation, the $862 billion stimulus, the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act — among other policies — that are causing concern and anxiety for business, individuals, and the market. In addition, in January 2011 the Bush tax cuts are set to expire unless they are all renewed by the lame-duck Congress or renewed immediately by the incoming Congress. It appears a compromise could emerge, but the question will be whether some or all of the Bush tax cuts will be renewed.

Government spending is also a concern, as the nation faces mounting debt and record levels of spending. The Federal Reserve's recent decision to initiate QE2, or "quantitative easing," by injecting $600 billion into the economy has increased concern over inflation. The deficit for 2010 is projected to be at least $1.3 trillion, and deficits are projected to increase unless spending is controlled. The deficits, the explosion in entitlement costs, and the national debt paint a grim picture of the fiscal condition of the nation.

Perhaps the historic nature of the 2010 midterm election may be a sign of a return to more conservative principles. Harding's economic policies turned the depression of 1920 into a short-lived depression, and by 1923, the economy was booming based on the limited government policies of Harding and Calvin Coolidge. As economic historian Jim Powell recently wrote in the Washington Times, "altogether, spending and taxes were cut 50 percent during the 1920s, and about 30 percent of the national debt was paid off." The federal budget saw surpluses and low unemployment.

Harding has left an example for today's policymakers to follow. Certainly the nation has changed since the 1920s, but the constitutional philosophy that Harding and other conservatives of the era followed are principles that are not obsolete. As then-Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater wrote in The Conscience of a Conservative: "Circumstances do change. So do the problems that are shaped by circumstances. But the principles that govern the solution of the problems do not."

John Hendrickson is a research analyst for the Public Interest Institute, a Mount Pleasant-based nonprofit research group. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute.

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