Unexpectedly Intriguing!
November 4, 2008

Alvin Felzenberg - The Leaders We Deserved With today's presidential election in the U.S., we thought it might be fun to consider the historical track record of the 42 unique individuals who have held the office since 1789.

To do that, we turned to Alvin Felzenberg, author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't) (HT: Annika Mengisen), who re-evaluated how 39 of the United States' past presidents performed on the basis of character, vision, competence, economic policy, whether they preserved and extended liberty, and also how they dealt with the defense, national security and foreign affairs of their day.

Felzenberg did not evaluate Presidents William Harrison and James Garfield, both of whom died early in office. Additionally, Felzenberg omitted current President George W. Bush from consideration since his tenure in office is not yet concluded.

Ranking each president on a scale from 1 to 5 for each of these categories, Felzenberg averaged each of his category scores to find their overall average score. We've taken his rankings and presented them in the dynamic table below. You can sort the rankings according to category by clicking the appropriate column heading - clicking a category once will sort the list from lowest to highest score according to that category, clicking again will sort the list from highest to lowest score.

That said, what are you waiting for? You know you want to see who ranks where overall!...

Ranking U.S. Presidents
Year of Inauguration President Character Vision Competence Economic Policy Preserving and Extending Liberty Defense, National Security and Foreign Policy Average Score
1789 Washington, George 5 4 5 5 4 5 4.67
1797 Adams, John 5 3 3 3 2 4 3.33
1801 Jefferson, Thomas 3 4 4 3 3 3 3.33
1809 Madison, James 5 2 1 1 4 1 2.33
1817 Monroe, James 3 4 4 1 3 5 3.33
1825 Adams, John Quincy 5 3 3 3 3 3 3.33
1829 Jackson, Andrew 3 2 5 1 1 3 2.50
1837 Van Buren, Martin 2 2 3 1 1 3 2.00
1842 Tyler, John 2 1 2 2 1 3 1.83
1849 Taylor, Zachary 5 4 4 3 4 3 3.83
1849 Polk, James 1 2 5 4 2 5 3.17
1850 Fillmore, Millard 2 1 2 3 1 3 2.00
1853 Pierce, Franklin 1 1 1 3 1 3 1.67
1857 Buchanan, James 1 1 1 2 1 3 1.50
1861 Lincoln, Abraham 5 5 5 5 5 5 5.00
1865 Johnson, Andrew 2 1 1 2 1 3 1.67
1869 Grant, Ulysses 4 5 3 3 5 3 3.83
1877 Hayes, Rutherford 3 2 2 3 1 3 2.33
1882 Arthur, Chester 3 2 3 3 3 3 2.83
1885 Cleveland, Grover 5 2 3 2 2 3 2.83
1889 Harrison, Benjamin 5 3 3 3 4 3 3.50
1897 McKinley, William 5 3 4 4 2 5 3.83
1901 Roosevelt, Theodore 4 5 5 5 3 5 4.50
1909 Taft, William 5 3 2 3 2 3 3.00
1913 Wilson, Woodrow 3 4 3 4 2 4 3.33
1921 Harding, William 2 3 2 3 4 2 2.67
1923 Coolidge, Calvin 4 3 4 4 4 2 3.50
1929 Hoover, Herbert 4 1 1 1 2 2 1.83
1933 Roosevelt, Franklin 3 4 5 3 4 5 4.00
1945 Truman, Harry 5 4 4 2 4 4 3.83
1953 Eisenhower, Dwight 5 3 5 4 4 4 4.17
1961 Kennedy, John 3 4 4 4 4 4 3.83
1963 Johnson, Lyndon 2 3 2 2 5 1 2.50
1969 Nixon, Richard 1 2 2 1 2 3 1.83
1974 Ford, Gerald 5 2 3 3 3 3 3.17
1977 Carter, James 5 2 2 1 3 1 2.33
1981 Reagan, Ronald 5 5 3 5 4 5 4.50
1989 Bush, George H.W. 5 2 3 3 3 4 3.33
1993 Clinton, William 2 3 3 4 3 3 3.00

To our eye, Felzenberg's methodology for producing the rankings is neat - it will be interesting to see how new information adapts each president's overall standing.

For example, in his interview with Freakonomics' Annika Mengisen, he argued the following regarding Franklin Roosevelt's economic track record:

On the economic front, there were really two Franklin D. Roosevelts. First, there was the Roosevelt who rallied public confidence; restored faith in the nation’s political, economic, and banking systems; and used the economic crisis as a catalyst to enact beneficial public policies (such as TVA and infrastructure repairs) and safeguards against what he termed the “vicissitude” of life. In the latter category would fall programs with which he is most associated today: social security, unemployment compensation, and other, including some more controversial, entitlements.

Then there was the second Roosevelt. As he would have wanted, we will call him F.D.R., the “great experimenter.” This Roosevelt’s zigging and zagging often exacerbated the problems before him. Under F.D.R., the Federal Reserve, save for a short interval, continued the tight money policies it had imposed under Hoover.

F.D.R. never completely abandoned his ideological preference for balanced budgets; well after Keynes’s writings about the occasional need for deficits as a means of stimulating economic growth had become well known well into World War II; when heavy spending and increased borrowing finally lifted the nation from the Great Depression; and well after other nations had begun to recover.

Moreover, F.D.R.’s heavy intervention into the economy — often on behalf of organized labor — did not sufficiently cause overall unemployment rates to fall. The downturn in the economy late in F.D.R.’s second term, after a slight uplift in his first, caused F.D.R. to doubt whether his first seven years in office had been a success. I will not quarrel with that assessment.

A 2004 study that has begun attracting a great deal of attention due to today's economic situation establishes that FDR's main economic policy program, the National Industrial Recovery Act, was particularly misguided and ineffective in that it artificially inflated both wages and prices well above the economy's ability to sustain them:

The policies were contained in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industries from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to enter into collective bargaining agreements that significantly raised wages. Because protection from antitrust prosecution all but ensured higher prices for goods and services, a wide range of industries took the bait, Cole and Ohanian found. By 1934 more than 500 industries, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of private, non-agricultural employment, had entered into the collective bargaining agreements called for under NIRA.

Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943.

FDR's short-lived policy had long-reaching effects. Artificially inflating the level of wages above their natural level amplified unemployment levels as many businesses were unable to operate at the higher costs. Meanwhile artificially inflated prices rose out of reach for many in the population, resulting in the destruction of demand, which in turn reduced production, which in turn resulted in greater levels of unemployment. In effect, he produced a poverty trap.

Since these outcomes are not a result of the randomness that often characterized FDR's approach to the economic crisis of his day, but rather his dedication to the objectives of this specific program, it's likely that Franklin Roosevelt's overall ranking will decline, as Felzenberg's scores for economic policy and preserving and extending liberty (in this case, economic liberty) are overstated.

And we'll have achieved Felzenberg's goal of a never-ending source of discussion!

Labels: ,

About Political Calculations



blog advertising
is good for you

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations.com

Thanks in advance!

Recent Posts

Applications

This year, we'll be experimenting with a number of apps to bring more of a current events focus to Political Calculations - we're test driving the app(s) below!

Most Popular Posts
Quick Index

Site Data

This site is primarily powered by:

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Visitors since December 6, 2004:

CSS Validation

Valid CSS!

RSS Site Feed

AddThis Feed Button

JavaScript

The tools on this site are built using JavaScript. If you would like to learn more, one of the best free resources on the web is available at W3Schools.com.

Other Cool Resources

Blog Roll

Market Links
Charities We Support
Recommended Reading
Recommended Viewing
Recently Shopped

Seeking Alpha Certified

Archives
Legal Disclaimer

Materials on this website are published by Political Calculations to provide visitors with free information and insights regarding the incentives created by the laws and policies described. However, this website is not designed for the purpose of providing legal, medical or financial advice to individuals. Visitors should not rely upon information on this website as a substitute for personal legal, medical or financial advice. While we make every effort to provide accurate website information, laws can change and inaccuracies happen despite our best efforts. If you have an individual problem, you should seek advice from a licensed professional in your state, i.e., by a competent authority with specialized knowledge who can apply it to the particular circumstances of your case.