Franklin Roosevelt? Pah! Here are ten far greater US presidents
January 17th, 2011
Further evidence of the unwisdom of experts. A major survey of British academics has come up with a ranking of US presidents. In top place, predictably, is that old despot Franklin D Roosevelt.
What a perfect illustration of how received opinion tends to be wrong. Roosevelt is praised for having rescued the US from recession through the New Deal. In fact, the New Deal almost certainly prolonged the slump. Its mass of regulations encouraged cartels and crony capitalism, burdened businesses and deterred employers from taking on workers. In 2004, two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian, conducted a major study which concluded that the New Deal had in fact lengthened the recession by seven years:
President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services. So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies.
Yup. In Britain, by contrast, the policy of slashing the deficit worked. You don’t believe me? You have in your mind, perhaps, an image of the Jarrow marchers? There were, as in any period of economic transition, some who suffered terribly. But the raw data tell the story: the 1930s saw greater net growth than any other decade in British history.
Even if we disregard FDR’s economic legacy, it is impossible to ignore his autocratic leanings. He ruled by executive decree, sidelined Congress, trampled on the jurisdiction of the states, ignored the two-term convention and attempted to pack the supreme court. He shifted power permanently from elected representatives to federal czars, from the legislature to the executive and from the states to Washington, ripping up the sublime constitution which his predecessors had served.
So, if not FDR, who? I’ve drafted my own list. It contains two libertarian, patriotic and incorruptible presidents who, had they lived in different times, might be remembered as titans: Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge. Cleveland and Coolidge form golden links in the chain of limited government that links Jefferson to Reagan. Every politician should ponder Cleveland’s reply to a petition for federal aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster:
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
Anyway, here’s my list.
1. Ronald Reagan (here’s why)
2. Abraham Lincoln (here’s why)
3. Thomas Jefferson (here’s why)
4. Grover Cleveland
5. Calvin Coolidge
6. George Washington
7. John Adams
8. James Polk
9. James Madison
10. John Quincy Adams