Government policies reflected the pro-business ethos of the 1920s. Recalling the era’s prosperity, one stockbroker later remarked, “God, J.P. Morgan and the Republican Party were going to keep everything going forever.” Business lobbyists dominated national conventions of the Republican Party. They called on the federal government to lower taxes on personal incomes and business profits, maintain high tariffs, and support employers’ continuing campaign against unions. The administrations of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge obliged. “Never before, here or anywhere else,” declared the Wall Street Journal, “has a government been so completely fused with business.” The two presidents appointed so many pro-business members of the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Trade Commission, and other Progressive era agencies that, complained Nebraska senator George W. Norris, they in effect repealed the regulatory system. The Harding administration did support Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover’s successful effort to persuade the steel industry to reduce the workday from twelve to eight hours. But it resumed the practice of obtaining court injunctions to suppress strikes, as in а 1922 walkout of 250,000 railroad workers protesting a wage cut.
The policies of President Calvin Coolidge were music to the ears of big business, according to one 1920s cartoonist.
“This decision affirms your constitutional right to starve.” A 1923 cartoon criticizes the Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional a Washington, D.C., law establishing a minimum wage for women. Justice George Sutherland, appointed to the Court the previous year by President Warren G. Harding, wrote the majority decision.
Under William Howard Taft, appointed chief justice in 1921, the Supreme Court remained strongly conservative. A resurgence of laissez-faire jurisprudence eclipsed the Progressive ideal of a socially active national state. The Court struck down a federal law that barred goods produced by child labor from interstate commerce. It even repudiated Muller v. Oregon (see Chapter 18) in а 1923 decision overturning a minimum wage law for women in Washington, D.C. Now that women enjoyed the vote, the justices declared, they were entitled to the same workplace freedom as men. “This,” lamented Florence Kelley, “is a new Dred Scott decision,” which, in the name of liberty of contract, “fills those words with the bitterest and most cruel mockery.”