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The Coolidge Prosperity by the Numbers: Echoes

Misery Through the Ages

By Amity Shlaes and Ilan Kolet

Every president must confront two major economic challenges: inflation and unemployment. The sum of the two has been called the Misery Index.

In the past, economists argued there was a trade off: You could pick one misery or the other. As this graphic shows, this isn't always the case. Under some presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, both high inflation and unemployment abided. Under others, such as Dwight Eisenhower, the country suffered from little of either.

Calvin Coolidge's administration was one of the latter cases. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data doesn't stretch as far back as the 1920s, estimated unemployment rates for that period from "The Historical Statistics of the United States" indicate that the misery index averaged 6.09 in the Coolidge years (from 1923 to 1929).

At least by this measure, life under the Coolidge prosperity was one of the least miserable periods of the last century.

(Amity Shlaes, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Bloomberg View columnist, oversees the Echoes blog. The opinions expressed are her own. Ilan Kolet, who created this graphic, is a data editor at Bloomberg News.)

To contact the author of this blog post:

To contact the editor responsible for this blog post: Timothy Lavin at

-0- Jul/08/2011 15:08 GMT

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