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.