The 10 Worst Presidents (from a free-market perspective): Part 2

Last week, I produced a list of the Top 10 Worst Presidents (from a free-market perspective), #s 6-10. Starting with #6, they were Richard Nixon, George Washington, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Theodore Roosevelt. Now here are the “top” 5:

5. Lyndon Johnson : In addition to the pointless death and destruction of Vietnam, Johnson’s “Great Society” also caused irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and the American family. Even his “civil rights” initiatives, for which conservatives give him begrudging praise, are condemned by libertarians. The Civil Rights Act, for example, amounted to the nationalization of private property and ushered in Affirmative Action, which arguably exacerbated racism. LBJ’s hyper spending was monetized by the Federal Reserve — according to the current head of the Dallas Fed, Johnson once physically beat a Fed chairman until he agreed to “print the money” Johnson “needed.” The huge amounts of new money created under Johnson’s reign as chief executive made the severing of the gold standard virtually inevitable, and set us on the path to monetary oblivion we’re currently on.

4. Harry Truman : The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed tens of thousands of innocent women and children — and it was all unnecessary. Although we’re not taught this in our government-funded schools, Japan had already offered a conditional surrender, but the U.S. demanded unconditional surrender. The Japanese were worried that the U.S. would kill or humiliate their Emperor, a religious figure, if their surrender was “unconditional.” Truman used this as an excuse to display the U.S.’s horrible military might — and put the Soviets on notice, igniting the Cold War.

Nothing can top the immorality of mass murder, but in terms of precedent, Truman’s unilateral invasion of Korea — without congressional consent, let alone a declaration of war — ranks as his worst deed. Truman considered his power as commander in chief to be absolute, and U.N. resolutions to overrule the U.S. Constitution. Since Korea, no U.S. president has sought a formal declaration of war — it’s “anachronistic,” they say. Oh, and when steel workers threatened to strike in 1952, Truman nationalized their mills (until blocked by the Supreme Court) because the steel industry was “vital” to the nation’s defense.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt : No executive has ever assumed more absolute power than FDR. One of his first actions as president was to dictatorially close U.S. banks. Shortly thereafter — in an episode that has been censored from our history books — he made it illegal to own gold, which then backed the U.S. dollar, and sent government agents into the homes and businesses of gold “hoarders” to confiscate the precious metal. Once all the gold had been turned in or seized, FDR revalued the dollar from 1/20 an ounce of gold, to 1/35 — an outright theft. Later, under the Bretton Woods System, this stolen gold — which is what filled Fort Knox — flowed out of the country, never to return.

We are taught in government schools that FDR “lifted us out of the Depression.” Numerous economists have shown this to be false. In fact, FDR’s New Deal policies made the Depression longer and more painful. For example: to keep food prices from dropping (as if that would have been a bad thing), FDR ordered millions of pounds of crops to be destroyed — while much of the nation went hungry. Later, unemployment did drop precipitously, but only after FDR had drafted a huge portion of the American work force into war. And, by the way, many contrarian historians believe FDR provoked Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor — and had foreknowledge of the attack.

One more thing about FDR: Today, he is celebrated as one of our greatest presidents by both the left and the right. But little is made of his internment of Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps. That he is held high as a symbol of liberalism (by the left) and war-statesmanship (by the right) is a disgrace.

2. Woodrow Wilson : “Woodrow Wilson makes George W. Bush look like a pro-bono lawyer for the ACLU,” says historian and author Bill Kauffman. And he’s right. Cindy Sheehan might have been unfairly ridiculed by Bush’s proxies in the right-wing media, but she wasn’t thrown in jail. Thousands of World War I critics, however, were. Among them, Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who gathered nearly 6 percent of the vote against Wilson (and T.R. and Taft) in 1912, and then ran for president from a jail cell — thanks to Wilson — in 1920.

Wilson, a former Klansman, re-segregated the Capitol, which had been integrated under President Grant. He gave us the Federal Reserve Act, the income tax, the direct election of senators (which entirely crushed “states’ rights”), and lied us into the completely counterproductive World War I — which led the way to the rise of Hitler and World War II. His ascension to the top of the Democratic Party ticket also, once and for all, crushed classical liberalism (Jeffersonianism) as a serious political tendency, and set up the bi-partisan monopoly of “Hamiltonianism,” leaving Americans with no real choice on Election Day.

1. Abraham Lincoln : “But didn’t Lincoln free the slaves?” No. If, in fact, the Civil War had been a crusade to free the slaves, then perhaps it would have been morally justifiable, says Real Lincoln author and Austrian economist Thomas J. DiLorenzo. But Lincoln was a white supremacist who favored a different 13th amendment — one that would have forbidden the federal government from ever interfering in slavery where it already existed. And, as the Civil War was coming to a close, he actually appropriated money for the deportation of freed blacks to Africa. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only applied to regions not under his control: not only were northern slave states excluded, but so were northern-controlled areas of southern states! The rest of the Western world, save for Haiti (which had a righteous slave rebellion), ended the evil practice of slavery without bloodshed. For merely the monetary expense of the Civil War, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of lives, the North could have purchased the freedom of every slave and given him or her 40 acres and a mule.

The real motivator behind the Civil War was economic mercantilism. Lincoln believed ardently in protectionism and corporate welfare, and the states that would comprise the Confederacy were for free trade. The system that Lincoln advocated received 75 percent of its revenue from the net-exporting South, and then spent 75 percent of that money in the North — the South was getting fleeced, and that’s why they seceded. Lincoln said that his priority was “preserving the union,” and if it meant that there would still be slavery in the South, that’d be fine — just as long as the tariff was collected.

But what makes Lincoln the worst president ever? Well, he literally destroyed the founders’ republic, which was a federation of independent states — a voluntary union. Lincoln made it an involuntary one and abolished state sovereignty. He also imposed the first income tax, conscripted men into the army and paid them with fiat money (another first), illegally suspended habeas corpus, shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned political opponents in the North, and ultimately forced his Hamiltonian agenda — which had lost for sixty years at the ballot box — on the country via a one-party monopoly that stretched from his election to that of Democratic-Hamiltonian Woodrow Wilson.

Where will President-Elect Obama rank on this list? Hopefully nowhere. Although the parallels between Hoover and Bush (both hyper-interventionists who are mischaracterized as “free-market” ideologues that”did nothing” to avoid crisis) are stunning, and Obama seems to fit the theme as a new FDR to supplant Bush’s Hoover, it must be remembered that FDR campaigned against Hoover’s interventionism and for a return to the laissez-faire Jeffersonianism of Grover Cleveland and only flip-flopped once he was in office. Perhaps Obama, who campaigned as an FDR-style Democrat, will do the same and flip-flop to the side of limited government and free markets. We can hope, can’t we?

8 comments to The 10 Worst Presidents (from a free-market perspective): Part 2

  • Very thought-provoking…I would like to see your list of “Best Free Market Presidents.” I would very much like to see who’s number one.

    Unfortunately, the principles of the free market have been sorely neglected for much of this country’s history and we have folks like Ha-joon Chang-who I actually found likeable-having met him in person, but who unwittingly created greater confusion by his misunderstanding of U.S. economic history. I once asked him a question about certain statistical data regarding the Great Depression which he quoted in his book and he sidestepped it completely. Would love to see him in a panel discussion with economist Douglas Irwin.

  • Ex Unge Leonem

    I couldn’t eat as much as I’d like to throw up. Is there a full moon? Back to your cell Mr Seagraves.

  • J.D. Seagraves

    To Emmanuel Tabones: Thank you. I won’t be writing a column on the “best” presidents (I’d use the term “least bad”), but two definitely stand out above the rest: Grover Cleveland and Martin Van Buren. In the 20th century, Harding and Coolidge were the least destructive. In recent history, all have been very bad, but it has been the Republicans who have done the most damage: Carter was definitely the least bad president since Coolidge, with Clinton coming in behind him. Thanks again.

  • jerry koller

    you need to read the record, why the south left the union. jerry koller

  • Luke

    @1: Aaand this is why despite being socially and economically libertarian, I cannot take the Libertarian Party seriously, and why when I like none of the other candidates, I cast a blank ballot in preference to the Libertarian.

    The Libertarian vendetta against Lincoln embodies pretty much every reason I find the Libertarian community’s worldview deeply disturbing, all in one neat little package. Let’s see, we’ve got: a sympathy with the neo-Confederates, (as well as creationists, and other radical right groups which will remain unspecified); a blindness to historical context and allergy to perspective; an obsession with ideological purity and antipathy towards compromise; a singleminded animosity towards the income tax; and a strange preference for the small governments of states over federal protection of individuals.

    I’ll leave aside the whole neo-Confederate issue that people like Ron Paul seem to have, since many of the Libertarians I’ve met with Lincoln issues do seem to be acting in good faith.

    First some historical context:
    Lincoln, like most anti-slavery northerners, has watched as one northern state after another abolished slavery (culminating in New Jersey), as Virginia came close to doing so (Virginia narrowly failed to enact gradual emancipation in the wake of the Turner revolt. According to at least one paper I’ve read, it would have passed, except that the pro-slavery districts were allowed to count their non-voting slaves for population). They came to the conclusion that if the expansion of slavery was checked, slavery would gradually die out. Southrons also believed this, which is why they kept pushing for “compromises” which invariably expanded slavery, and opposed popular sovereignty. The thinking behind the original 13th Amendment was that it by ensuring that a Northern majority in the House and Senate could not abolish slavery, more moderate “necessary evil” southerners would stop pushing to expand slavery. It’s also why abolitionists and the radical “positive good” southerners jointly killed the amendment.

    It’s clear from his letters that Lincoln was opposed to slavery. It’s also clear that he was a shrewd politician, who recognized the need to compromise with slavery. We think that’s horrific, but outside of New England abolition was generally considered well beyond the pale. As Congressman, Lincoln came from a conservative district in downstate Illinois. As president Lincoln would not have been elected on a platform of abolition. The Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery northerners from both the Democrats and the Whigs with a focus on stopping the expansion of slavery, again, with the hope that it would gradually die out. And honestly, I don’t think that abolition was his goal when he started the Civil War. He did try to get the border states to abolish slavery, which every one from Missouri to Delaware refused). Regardless of whether he intended to abolish slavery at the outset of the Civil War the fact of the matter is that Lincoln was a pragmatist, who found it pragmatic to did abolish slavery.

    Libertarians always harp about how libertarianism makes the most sense, practically and morally, yet detest anybody who makes concessions to reality. Lincoln made concessions with reality, both political and practical, and put an end to the greatest stain on our nation’s history. The next time a Libertarian does more to advance individual freedom than write a conspiracy theory about why the 16th Amendment is Unconstitutional, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

    Let’s talk about the Confederacy. Leave aside slavery (and whether slavery for southern blacks is worse than the income tax for everybody), and just focus on free white men. Lincoln violated the 1st Amendment rights of the Copperheads? I concede that, and deny that it was worse than the Sedition Act. The southerners, however, were censoring abolitionist literature even before the civil war. The southern states instated a draft well before the north did, and much more thoroughly. As for habeas corpus, the Confederates violated that too. On the other hand, the Constitution explicitly allows the president to suspend it during times of domestic insurrection or civil unrest. But the Civil War was neither. And let’s not forget that Lincoln’s original plan was to wait out secession, and let cooler heads prevail in the south. The Civil War was horrifically violent, but the South started it. (No joke. Google “Ft. Sumter”)

    Oh, but Lincoln did violate the rights of states governments in order to defend the rights of the meagre seventh of the national population born into slavery, and the few white unionists who opposed secession. (And what’s worse, he laid the framework for the 14th Amendment, requiring *states* to respect the Bill of Rights. Quelle horreur!) Nevermind then, I take it all back. Lincoln *was* the worst president ever.

  • TJ from Sweden

    Interesting list!

    I was just surfing around and caught other “10 worst presidents lists” and I was amazed that presidents who were involved in different wars were actually ranked up in the top 10!. Why is that? Is war some kind of good thing that I don’t know of?

    I for one, think that the invention of the nuclear bomb and the bombings in Japan in 1945 are one of the worst crimes against humanity in modern history. The nuclear threat will be a threat for generations and generations to come. I would think that a good president would have worked against such a weapon. Maybe I am just naive.

    War is never the answer – but sometimes I get the feeling that some of these politicians see war as an excuse for developing the weapons industry. 9/11 springs to mind.


  • Guest

    Not a libertarian, but I’ll just pretend that I am.
    This top 5 looks fine. GW Bush was worse than any and Reagan was worse than Johnson or Truman, though.
    10. Hoover
    9. Eisenhower
    8. Nixon
    7. Truman
    6. Lyndon Johnson
    5. Reagan
    4. FDR
    3. Wilson
    2. Lincoln
    1. GW Bush
    Dishonorable mentions: Clinton (How was he less bad than Ford?), Teddy Roosevelt.
    I wouldn’t say Ford was very bad. He did a great deal of damage, but he did more good than any other president, no hyperbole, so he ends up as an average president. And Clinton? How was he less bad than Ford, Kennedy, or even Bush I?
    My best list:
    10. Fillmore
    9. Arthur
    8. Grant
    7. Andrew Johnson
    6. Cleveland
    5. Taylor
    4. Harding
    3. Coolidge
    2. Tyler
    1. Van Buren

  • Wedabes

    PS-Civil war was over slavery on the south’s part.

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