Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Who's Yer Daddy? Bill Clinton?

According to a Forbes study, yes. (As you can tell from the picture below, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, just like Freud said).

The Presidents who presided over the periods that also saw the most robust economies (I'm choosing my words carefully) are, according to the study:

1. Clinton
2. Johnson
3. Kennedy
4. Reagan
5. Ford

The other rankings, and the study, can be found here.

There are three things to be said about this.

1. The categories are rankings, and only go back to Eisenhower. Adding rankings is pretty sketchy, since you are treating them as if the categories are equally weighted, and the ordinal rankings would have to be ratio scale cardinal numbers to make this realistic.

2. If we go back as far as Roosevelt, and according to my own quick back of the envelope calculations, Roosevelt would have been the worst Prez of the 11, by quite a bit. Since FDR is supposed to have been an economic genius by his admirers, this might raise some questions. The "greatness" of President should be measured by value-added, compared against the counter-factual--"How would the economy have performed if the OTHER GUY had won?"

3. The very idea that a President can reliably influence even at the margin, much less control, economic events in his term(s) is crazy. Fiscal policy affects performance with Friedman's "long and variable lags", if it has any measurable effect. (Yes, Milton Friedman was talking about monetary policy. But the point applies with equal force to fiscal and tax policy). Russell Roberts does a very nice job of laying out the key issues.

(Thanks to SdM for the tip. And thanks to Anon for fixing the brain damage).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out the absurdity of these types of rankings (at least the statistical absurdity, I mean, everyone knows Jessica Simpson is waaaaaaaaay better than Britney, you don't need numbers to prove the obvious). But doesn't this critique beg the question of the validity of most political science data since little, if any, of it is interval/ratio. For example, the classic "10 point scale" of rating some aspect of a politician does not conform to the necessary requirements that you point out concerning the Forbes ranking. This is not meant to sound accusatory, but more curious as to the ironic connection between promotions to sell magazines and promotions social scientists use to get published (or at least funded).

ps- I assume you are referring to Milton Friedman, if so, no link for the poor guy? I think he's still alive...