The 10 Worst Presidents (from a free-market perspective): Part 1

Now that the 2008 election is history, and George W. Bush’s presidential tenure has come to an end, historians will begin to evaluate where Bush-43 ranks among the best and worst chief executives in America’s history. My prediction: Ultimately, they’ll rank him highly. That’s because, if you look at traditional presidential rankings, the presidents who advocated and achieved the biggest increases in government are typically ranked the highest, and few presidents have ever grown the government like George W. Bush.

There is a shared consensus among conservatives and liberals about who the greatest presidents were. This consensus is not shared by free-market libertarians. With an emphasis on their economic policies, I have compiled a list of the 10 Worst Presidents from a libertarian perspective. I will share #s 6-10 in this blog entry, and #s 1-5 in a future post. So, without further ado:

10. Theodore Roosevelt : Selecting #10 was difficult, and T.R. just narrowly edged out the “dishonorable mentions” of John Adams, James K. Polk, and Herbert Hoover. Like historian Thomas E. Woods says, we’ve had better presidents than Theodore Roosevelt, and we’ve had worse presidents — but we’ve never had a crazier president.

T.R., says Austrian economist Thomas DiLorenzo, was obsessed with war and killing. He was the first president who totally eschewed the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson and said that the U.S. needed to be the world’s policeman — he even warned of the “menace of peace.” He imposed price controls and unprecedented regulation, and championed “progressive” reforms that came into being with the 16th (income tax) and 17th (direct election of senators) amendments.

The only thing that saves Roosevelt from ranking “higher” on this list is that he (thankfully) presided over a relatively calm period of American history. After leaving office for four years, he campaigned for the White House as a third-party candidate in 1912. If he had won, America would have certainly plunged into the unnecessary World War I much earlier, and who knows what the outcome would have been.

9. Ronald Reagan : Although the Gipper mouthed libertarian rhetoric, the facts are that he imposed one of the greatest tax increases in U.S. history (taking away many tax deductions and raising the payroll tax), ramped up the disastrous War on Drugs, and accumulated more debt than all of the previous 39 presidents combined. His fiscal policies, along with his appointment of Alan Greenspan to chair the Fed, sowed the seeds of America’s monetary ruin.

8. George W. Bush : Bush-43 was not “the worst president ever” by any objective standard. But he was among the worst and, by his own stated objectives, a total failure. After all, this is a president who began his second term by trying to privatize Social Security and ended it by socializing the banking sector. Bush’s two terms were characterized by massive federal-government growth, huge deficits, expensive and immoral wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit (which is bigger than Social Security and will eventually bankrupt the nation), the loss of civil liberties (i.e., the Patriot Act), and the nationalization of “education” (No Child Left Behind). Bush will leave the White House by turning it over to Democrats with huge congressional majorities. Fail.

7. George Washington : The first truly sacred cow on the list, George Washington is typically above criticism. But it was he who appointed the initial federal judiciary, and he stocked it with Federalists to the exclusion of his political adversaries. This meant that anyone who was skeptical of the new Constitution — which increased central power over the states from the original Articles of Confederation — was automatically disqualified. In practice, this led to a judicial monopoly of monarchists and nationalists that lasted well into the long Jeffersonian reign of 1800-1860. Also, Washington signed the (unconstitutional) first Bank of the United States into law, and led an army against his own citizens to crush the Whiskey Rebellion. Imagine George W. Bush doing that!

6. Richard Nixon : In addition to his well-known criminality, lying, and illegal warring, Nixon truly deserves our ire for his imposition of price and wage controls and “closing of the gold window” — making the U.S. dollar into a pure fiat currency. In fact, it was in protest to these things that the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971.

So there’s the list: Four Republicans and one Federalist. But if you think I’m letting the Democrats off the hook, you have another thing coming — four of the five Worst are Democrats. Check back next week to see who they are.

8 comments to The 10 Worst Presidents (from a free-market perspective): Part 1

  • C. Wendt

    Now, I’ll admit that president Washington was far from blameless economically, but counting him as “worse” than hard-core war-mongering domestic and foreign interventionists like Bush and Roosevelt is a bit ridiculous, in my opinion. It is true that he was clearly Federalist-leaning and wanted a stronger Federal government than, say, a Jefferson, but he also repeatedly actively turned down dictatorial power and set various precedents which prevented generations of subsequent presidents from doing so, and by and large (the banking matter being an exception; apparently he bought Hamilton’s “implied-power” argument here) he made a point of keeping scrupulously within the bounds the Constitution and making it taboo for others to usurp unconstitutional powers (read, for example, his position on presidential military exploits/Congress’ war-declaration power, along with his humble foreign policy, contrary to the desires of those such as Hamilton, who romanticized “imperial glory,” or his warning against changes to the Constitution by usurpation).

    As for the Whiskey Rebellion (”imagine George W. Bush doing that!”), Bush would most certainly have taken military action against an actual violent rebellion during his presidency- in fact, I don’t think there has been even one president in the history of the United States who would not have used military force- reluctantly in some instances, but nevertheless- to put down something like the Whiskey Rebellion. Notable is the fact that Washington essentially scared the rebels into abandoning their cause with minimal bloodshed, then pardoned all of them (against the wishes, once more, of Hamilton, who wanted them all hanged- Hamilton did regrettably have a lot of clout in the Washington administration, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of viewing their positions as indistinguishable).

    Washington’s federal expansion consisted mostly in endeavors he viewed as necessary for defense/law-and-order purposes; I am not aware of any efforts by Washington to forcefully intervene in private contracts, institute income taxation, set price controls, etc., and his foreign policy was very much a free-market-friendly one. His militarily-influenced political perspective and authoritarian streak push him outside the bounds of what we could fairly call an ideal libertarian, but these failings must be weighed against quite a few strong points in his resume (centrally his remarkable capacity for turning down absolute power, anti-imperialism and non-interventionism), and I don’t think they were nearly so severe as what we’ve seen from numerous subsequent presidents.

  • me mee

    really the great communicator is up there that is absurd he tore down the wall he put us in a prosperous position econnomically yet he is on the list Ronald Reagan could be one of the greatest presidents ever

  • Andy

    Bush.. No doubt about it

  • Guest

    I am not libertarian, but I’ll just pretend that I am.
    10. Definitely a bad one, but I’d give the 10th spot to Hoover with T Roosevelt as a “dishonorable mention” along with Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
    9. I’d put him a little higher, worse than Nixon and Washington, though better than GW Bush.
    -Lebanese-Civil War
    -Iraq-Iran War
    -Bombed Libya
    -Invasion of Grenada
    -Funding of military groups in 10 different countries
    -War On Drugs
    -Tripled debt with spending increases
    To name just his worst actions.
    8. George W. Bush is indeed the worst president ever. Lincoln is the only one who can compete, and Bush just beats him out. Again, I’m just going to name his worst actions.
    -Invasion of Afghanistan
    -Military Commisions Act
    -USA Patriot Act
    -Tortured prisoners
    -Sarbanes-Oxley Act
    -Invaded and occupied Iraq
    -Created Dept. Of Homeland Security
    -Spending to overthrow Iran’s government
    -Incredible deficits
    -Funded Somali warlords against ICU
    -Supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia
    -Attempted Coup in Venezuela
    -Provoked Palestinian Civil War
    -Attempted to destabilize Pakistan
    -Orchestrated Civic Coup in Bolivia
    -Operation Pipe Dreams
    -Counterterrorism Military training abroad
    -Nationalized and bailed out economic disasters
    -One million people on no fly lists
    Man that’s a lot.
    7. Washington’s crushing of the Whiskey Rebellion was constitutional. The constitution gives the president the power to crush insurecction or rebellion. Anyways, Washington was pretty much average. He did his fair share of damage, but not nearly as much as say, Bush or Reagan, and it’s pretty much balanced out by the good he did (Foreign Policy of Neutrality, set precedent for constitutional veto power, peacefully relinquishing power after 2 terms.) Replace him with Eisenhower. Why? Well, let’s see. Again, just listing his worst actions.
    -Operation Ajax
    -Operation PBSuccess
    -CIA intervention in Cuba
    -Operation Blue Bat
    -CIA assistance during Congo Crisis
    -NSC 16/62
    -Internal Revenue Code of 1954
    -Dept. Of Health, Education, and Welfare
    -Appointed Earl Warren
    Now, let’s look at Washington’s worst actions
    -Appointed Alexander Hamilton
    -Introduced National Draft
    Clearly, Washington is worse.
    6. Nixon definitely belongs on this list, however, I would say he was better than Bush, Reagan, and possibly Eisenhower. Not just because he didn’t do quite as much harm as Reagan or Bush (Though way more harm than Eisenhower), but also because he did more good. SALT I, eventually ending Vietnam, opening relations with China, and lowering the defense spending level.
    I’d say…
    10. Herbert Hoover
    9. Dwight Eisenhower
    8. Richard Nixon
    7. Lyndon Johnson
    6. Ronald Reagan

  • timm

    I think our guest is high.

  • i think bush deserves to be on dat list

  • Wedabes

    Did this clown really put Washington top 10 worst? Im done lmao. He was a classical moderate president. He set presidency. Without him, nonintervention would not have been heard of. Whiskey rebellion was constitutional. He did not expand the government like alot of others. He did not raise taxes. Non-intervention once again. He was a decent president at least. I am a libertarian, but i respect moderate approaches to constitution.

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