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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

America’s Most Profligate President Is…?

May 29, 2023 by Dan Mitchell

Looking just at fiscal policy, who is the worst president in American history?

Based on historical data from the Office of Management and Budget, I calculated a few years ago that Richard Nixon was the biggest spender, followed by Lydon Johnson.

But I was only looking at the growth of inflation-adjusted spending during the fiscal years when various presidents were in office.

What about long-run estimates of how various presidents have changed America’s (depressing) fiscal trajectory.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post did something like this, though he focused on red ink rather than the spending burden.

That being said, he found somewhat similar results. Only he reports that LBJ was the worst with Nixon being the second worst.

Policy choices made long ago are more responsible for the fiscal state of the nation. Assigning a particular president responsibility for a debt increase is rarely productive, because so much depends on factors beyond a president’s control — an economic crisis such as the Great Recession or the pandemic, for example. …Which president has contributed the most to the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance? That would be Lyndon B. Johnson… Through an exhaustive study of Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget reports, …LBJ’s share of the fiscal imbalance is 29.7 percent. Close behind is Richard M. Nixon, with 29.2 percent. Johnson enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, and then Nixon in the early 1970s expanded both programs and also enhanced Social Security so that benefits were indexed to inflation. …almost two-thirds of the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance is a result of policy choices made more than 50 years ago.

I’m not surprised that Medicare and Medicaid get so much blame. They deserve it!

By the way, Kessler did not do his own calculations.

Instead, he relied on some research by Charles Blahous. Here’s the relevant table from that study, which was published in late 2021.

I’m not surprised that Reagan was the best president.

P.S. Biden was not included since he has just entered office when the research was conducted. If there is a similar study 10 years from now, I’m guessing he will be like Obama with bad but not horrible results. Yes, Biden has an awful fiscal agenda, but his failed stimulus and the watered-down (and absurdly misnamed) Inflation Reduction Act may wind up being the only significant damage he imposes.

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