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The 4 Worst Presidents in History (Financially Speaking)

by on August 8, 2012

A lot of people like to blame Barack Obama for America’s lousy state of economic affairs, but the truth is that compared to some of his predecessors, he could be doing worse. Much worse. For all of the president’s shortcomings in the financial sector, his administration has at least kept us from experiencing another Great Depression or misery index. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for many other commanders in chief. (We’re looking at you, Carter!)

To bolster our argument, we went ahead and researched some of the worst fiscal presidents to ever occupy the Oval Office, and what we found was pretty depressing. When you read about the boneheaded financial moves made by these previous heads of state, President Obama starts to look like a certified genius. Take a look:

1)    Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter is a nice guy and an incredible humanitarian, but as a president he stank worse than that carton of eggs you left in your car for three days last July. During his time in office, he allowed foreign oil producers to form a price-fixing cartel, which threw the economy into a stall. As a result, the nation experienced an energy crisis while inflation and unemployment rose tremendously.

Carter famously used the misery index – a figure calculated by adding the national inflation rate and unemployment rate percentages together – to accuse his predecessor, Gerald Ford, of being a failure. At the time of Carter’s election, the misery index was at 11.06. When he left office, it was over 20.07. ‘Nuff said.

2)    Warren G. Harding. In 1920, women were given the right to vote. That was great. Then they helped elect Warren G. Harding as president and suddenly things weren’t so great. Harding liked upholding his presidential duties about as much as he liked staying faithful to his wife, which is to say not much at all.

Harding allowed his cronies to loot the government while he sat back and played poker. This came to a head in the Teapot Dome Scandal. Harding, it was revealed, had allowed oil tycoons to plunder a government oil reserve in Wyoming in exchange for a small bribe. All in all, his presidency was a colossal mistake on the part of the voters. Even Harding himself thought so. He is famously quoted as saying “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.”

3)    George W. Bush. We’re not trying to knock contemporary Republicans here, but let’s call a spade a spade. Many of the younger Bush’s financial policies were a failure – and the wounds opened by his presidency are still festering. Under his leadership, poverty increased by 26 percent, the number of uninsured Americans jumped by 20 percent and the median household income fell by $2,000.

Of course, the biggest smear on GW’s legacy will forever be the Iraq War. Our invasion of Iraq for dubious political reasons dragged on for eight years (and beyond) cost the country nearly $1 trillion and countless tragedies for Iraqi citizens and American soldiers. Whether you think war was justified or not, there’s no denying that it came at a terrible expense right at a time when we needed that money the most. It’s because of this that George W. Bush will likely remain on many media outlet’s “Bottom 10” list of presidents for decades to come.

4)    James Buchanan. As far as starting expensive and unnecessary wars goes, George W. Bush doesn’t hold a candle to James Buchanan. When Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 triggered a number of Southern states to start seceding from the union, the incumbent Buchanan simply sat back and allowed it to happen.

When infighting between pro- and anti-slavery farmers resulted in “Bleeding Kansas,” Buchanan allowed it to happen. When Southern soldiers started seizing federal armories, Buchanan allowed it to happen. He didn’t want to be remembered as the president who let the nation fall apart, so he let the conflict simmer until Lincoln took office and inherited the bloodiest and most costly war in American history. For that, Buchanan earns the disgraceful title of “The Worst Financial President in History.

President Obama is by no means the most effective financial leader we’ve ever had, but when you check out the records of these four individuals … well, let’s just say he’s not the worst, either. So the next time you start complaining about the failures of the current administration, just be thankful that Jimmy Carter or James Buchanan aren’t in charge. It’s troubling to think of how bad things would be if they were the ones pulling the strings right now.

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