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Calvin Coolidge Channels Lysander Spooner

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Matt Yglesias amusingly mocked Calvin Coolidge's note cards in this video, but the actual speech is remarkable.  The President of the United States sounds only two or three steps short of Lysander Spooner:

Taxes take from everyone a part of his earnings and force everyone to work for a certain part of his time for the government.

When we come to realize that the yearly expenses of the governments of this country...the stupendous sum of about 7 billion, 500 million dollars...

Such a sum is difficult to comprehend. It represents all the pay of five million wage earners receiving five dollars a day, working 300 days in the year. If the government should add 100 million dollars of expense, it would represent four days more work of these wage earners. These are some of the reasons why I want to cut down public expense.

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. This is the chief meaning of freedom.

Until we can reestablish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very severe and distinct curtailment of our liberty.

These results are not fanciful; they are not imaginary. They are grimly actual and real, reaching into every household in the land. They take from each home annually an average of over 300 dollars -- and taxes must be paid. They are not a voluntary contribution to be met out of surplus earnings. They are a stern necessity. They come first.

It is only out of what is left, after they are paid, that the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter can be provided and the comforts of home secured, or the yearnings of the soul -- for a broader and more abundant life gratified.

When the government affects a new economy, it grants everybody a life pension with which to raise the standard of existence. It increases the value of everybody's property, raises the scale of everybody's wages.

One of the greatest favors that can be bestowed upon the American people is economy in government.

Amen, but don't mistake libertarian rhetoric for reality.  The fact remains that Coolidge signed the bill that permanently ended the American tradition of open borders.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Eric Falkenstein writes:

You can be a libertarian and still not for open boarders (see Milton Friedman).

Alex Nowrasteh writes:


Friedman's opinion is much more nuanced than that. He was for open borders, if there was no welfare state. But he also said he's in favor of illegal immigration because they don't have access to the welfare state.

Laissez faire and laissez passer are two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other.

Saturos writes:

Unrelated: The Economist is Caplanian (check out paragraph 8):

Even China is more Caplanian (opening up to North Korean refugees).

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Actually, President Warren G. Harding signed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921 which actually established the policy you dislike so much (later confirmed by the 1924 Act, since the 1921 Act had been a success in the eyes of the electorate).

The half-century of limited immigration between the 1921 and 1965 immigration laws was the time of greatest economic advancement in American history, bringing the greatest relative improvement in living standards for Americans since the first effects of the industrial revolution brightened the mid-19th Century.

Mechanization and electrification increased manufacturing output by more than 50% between 1921 and 1929 alone and per-capita income increased by 30% over that period (in constant (gold) dollars).

Although the world-wide depression of the 1930's and FDR's ham-handed responses to it depressed the economy and economic growth during that period, growth rebounded after 1938 or so and continued spectacularly until 1965. Among other effects, the portion of the workforce in agriculture (and "forestry and fishing") declined from well over 20% in 1921 to around 6% in 1965.

I don't have a handy source for inflation-adjusted GDP numbers from 1930 to 1965 but even accounting for currency devaluations the economy grew and grew-- all without much immigration, proving immigration is unnecessary for economic growth.

As the Wikipedia article you linked reports: "According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, 'In all its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.'"

The Act achieved its purpose pretty well, and the American people, their social capital and social trust relatively undisturbed by a constant influx of aliens, achieved wonderful things.

Steve Sailer writes:

And the chaotic, riot-prone America of 1921 wound up surviving the Great Depression with few serious civil disturbances and riots, and emerged in 1945 as the most powerful nation since Rome.

Mark Bahner writes:
Amen, but don't mistake libertarian rhetoric for reality. The fact remains that Coolidge signed the bill that permanently ended the American tradition of open borders.

You show me a President who never signed an unlibertarian law, and I'll show you a President who did not preside for any earthly country.

Nathan Smith writes:

1790-1924 Largely open borders, fairly steady economic growth
1924 End of open borders
1929-39 Great Depression


It's true that the technological momentum from the open-borders Gilded Age persisted for some time after we closed the borders, before it slowed down in the 1950s and 1960s (though growth persisted due to recovery from war and depression, as well as the demographic transition). It also took some after the borders were somewhat loosened in the mid-1960s before Silicon Valley, full of immigrant entrepreneurs, launched the Information Revolution and ended the productivity slowdown of 1973-1996. I think these effects operate with a lag. If we were to adopt full-fledged open borders with migration taxes tomorrow, it might be a decade or two before growth would accelerate to rates never before seen. At first, the main effects might be a recovery in housing prices and more competition for places in US colleges and universities. There might be some angst.

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Since the Great Depression of the 1930's was world-wide, exactly how do you figure it was particularly caused by US immigration policy?

Bob Murphy writes:

Does anybody know where Yglesias mocked Coolidge?

Dan P writes:

Let's not forget about the immigration of 10 million American troops returning from war in those 1921 to 1965 statistics. Let's also selectively not talk about when those troops were brought back, hence immigration continued. And the depression did not end in 1938.

Mark Little writes:

@Steve Sailer,

Yes, but Rome came to rule the western world through assimilation, and the progressive granting of Cives Romani status to a growing fraction of the barbari. We all know what happened to Rome after it ceased to assimilate new blood.

@Ghost of Christmas Past,

Don't you think that US growth in the 30s and 40s might have had something to do with the immigration of the likes of Einstein, Pauli, Von Neumann, etc. accompanying the statist catastrophe in Europe?

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