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The vision of the future currently unfolding is a depressing one for any supporter of liberty. Of course, the question begged is, "What can I do about it?" Since voters have discovered they have the ability to vote themselves other peoples' money, a cynical view of politics seems appropriate. While economic education is a tool of immense power, is it enough to combat the increasingly collectivist incentives created by our expanding state?

Hooray for Pete!
Another, but closely related, aspect of Bush's terrible presidency is his Constitutional record. Everyone interested in Bush should read Healy and Lynch, Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush, published by Cato. It is available at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6330

Day after day we learn of new damning information like the Intelligence report stating that Iran is not working on a nuclear bomb and the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes allegedly for national security reasons -- but more likely to prevent Congressional investigators from seeing the methods applied to extract information, etc. So the issue is not only prosperity but liberty.
(Finally, was I wrong to argue that Gary Becker should turn down the Medal of Freedom from such a man? Some people said that this public act of Becker was none of my business.)

I completely agree w/Peter. W. has been one of the most god-awful presidents ever. Here's a partial list of his transgressions from my standpoint:

1. Firing no one after the 9/11 strike on our country.

2. Firing no one after the Iraq intel bust.

3. Firing no one after the latest "disclosure" that the Iranians have (supposedly) not been pursuing nuclear weapons for over four (4) years.

4. Mediscare prescription drug plan.

5. Protective tariffs for the steel industry.

6. The Farm Bill.

7. No vetoes of budgetary items until 2007.

8. No Child Left Behind Act.

9. Asking no sacrifice of us when he took the country to war.

10. Not even discussing the desirability of a declaration of war.

11. Not ditching Cheney in 2004.

12. Not firing Rumsfeld on 9/12/2001. (Rationale: we can fight a war, or we can reform the military, but we cannot do both simultaneously. Rumsfeld was hired to reform the military. When that idea left, he should have, too.)

13. Not assembling a first-rate staff until the last two years of his presidency.

14. Not nominating Hank Paulson in 2001.

15. Nominating Bernanke.

16. Sitting idly by while Bernanke quickly gutted the dollar.

17. Not requiring Bernanke to publish M3.

18. Failing to hold a news conference every week.

19. Adopting a bunker mentality.

20. Wearing his religion on his sleeve.

21. Not attacking "static budgeting" @ the CBO.

22. Transforming the notion of principle into pigheadedness.

I could go on, but these are the things that come to my mind on the spur of the moment. He has been the greatest political disappointment I ever voted for. At least we knew that Nixon was a liar. Bush could have been one of the greatest. Instead, he will go down--and rightly so--near the bottom of the heap.

Thanks for the great work this blog does!

Warren

Not a word of argument from me on this one Pete. There hasn't been a worse one in my lifetime. (And stick a link in to the reference to my Paul post - I think it needs more comments .)

But here's a serious question: in November of 2000 I thought Bush was the lesser of two evils compared to Gore. Knowing what I knew at that time, with 9/11 yet to come, I would stand by that judgment. However, with history in our rearview mirror, and as much as I loathe Algore, it is simply hard to imagine that he would have been worse.

He might have been marginally worse on economic liberty (Bush has been plenty bad), but it's hard to imagine he would have been as bad on civil liberties and empire-building. The one hesitation I have is that if he'd got his way with environmental regulation, he may well have choked off the forces of progress Pete mentions much more than W has. Still, on the whole, I can't imagine Gore being as bad - at least the Constitution would still have some meaning.

Thoughts folks?

When running for President Bush let it be known that he didn't think much of liberty and America's founding ideology. In his 1999 "Duty of Hope" speech Bush said this:

"We must apply our conservative and free-market ideas to the job of helping real human beings — because any ideology, no matter how right in theory, is sterile and empty without that goal."

The job of government is to help "real human beings" (as opposed to fake ones, I suppose), and the ideas of liberty and the rule of law are sterile and empty, unless government can somehow manipulate these to pursue it's real goals. Pathetic.

This is what Michael Gerson calls "Heroic Conservatism". Gerson identifies Jimmy Carter, FDR, and Woodrow Wilson as his "Heroes", so we have some idea what he means by "Heroic Conservatism". Gerson penned Bush's "Duty of Hope" speech, and much of his rhetoric in the first term. The idea here is that the 19th century rejection of the market by the Pope is the model for contemporary "conservative" thought, or so suggests Gerson. To the extent that Bush has had a "brain" when it comes to ideas, that brain has been Gerson rather than Rove. So folks who don't like the intellectual legacy of the Bush Republicans should spend some time taking apart the ideas of Gerson.

I can't believe what a mess Bush has got us into. Billions of dollars going down the drain in Iraq, a screwed up set of advisers, and now this credit crunch. This could be a scary next couple of years...

Just curious - but why are almost all of you "Libertarians" at GMU?

My answer to the question in the title: No, He's only a close second worst to the gold-standard-abolishing, price-controls-brandishing, R.M. Nixon.

Great Blog!

You can all relax, our new Prime Minister has pledged to unite the world on climate change initiatives. He has written a critique of Hayek on social justice as well.

http://www.cis.org.au/Events/policymakers/krudd_lecture.pdf

And would Dr Boettke (just like the other phoney baloeny play anarchists at GMU) accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from dubya? You bet he would.

Pete and Steve:

How does this square with your claims that "it's getting better all the time"? I agree with Mario, it's not only an issue of prosperity, but of liberty. The Patriot Act, to me, takes us well into a greater course of destruction than the stupid rate freeze. I honestly don't see how you guys can remain eternal optimists... my goodness, look at the administrations we've lived through, and you guys -- my good friends -- claim it is getting better all the time. (Well, as John Lennon added -- "It can't get much worse"...)

Not looking for a debate, by the way, but just chiming in and exiting as quickly as possible.

Libertarians and economists may have contempt for the Bush Presidency, but it's worth paying attention to the fact that Bush and the Bush Republicans have equal contempt for economists and libertarians. This contempt has several sources -- they see themselves as politically powerful and numerous, and the libertarians and economists as politically powerless; they see themselves as righteous and Christian, they see most libertarians and economists as unrighteous and unChristian (see for example, the writings of Bush speech writer Michael Gerson, who dismisses fiscal conservatives (his term) as "small minded, cold, and uninspired", among other ethical slams against them); and they see economists and libertarians as intellectual and moral inferiors, and themselves as intellectually and morally superior. It's not so uncommmon to see a Bush Republican dismiss a whole line of argument as something persuasive merely to the people working at the CATO Institute. I'm not making that up.

For a Bush Republican, it's something of a "conversation stopper" to bring a discussion to its (proper) end by dismissing it as the mere concern of a libertarian or an economist.

So libertarians and economists have their work cut out for them in trying to figure out how to have a productive dialog with this powerful block within the American political community -- if they care to participate in such a thing.

Bruce Bartlett has a good book taking a look at how Bush and his administration pushed traditional Republican economic policy making off the table. Eye opening reading.

May I ask why you do not support Dr. Paul's Campaign Dr. Boettke? He has pictures of Mises and other Austrian economists on the walls of his office on Capitol Hill!!! He quotes Mises often and he seems to be much more aligned with libertarians than just his anti- war stance. Why no mention of his monetary policy? Why does it seem to be the cool thing to do pie in the sky academics to be so aloof about politics when this principled man tries to spread the message of freedom? Why not support the only prospect "for a post-Bush push for pro-liberty policies"? Why not support the only candidate that could actually defeat Hillary Clinton?

Ron Paul is far more of a libertarian than Ronald Reagan, or pretty much any other elected politician I can think of. Is there any politician that you support more than him? I cannot think of any more deserving of it from a libertarian perspective.

Great post.

Jimmy Carter should also get a nod as semi-acceptable on your list. He did, after begin deregulation, reduce the number of employees in executive branch, support individual rights around the world. No one on your list is really any good, but relative to the others Carter was (and is) not bad.

As for the foreclosure rate freeze -- Roubini has a http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini/230954/>cogent defense of it. I think it raises terrible moral hazard issues for the future, but it is clear that investors and borrowers are both better off with this than with a cascade of foreclosures that collapses the real estate markets and leaves everyone with nothing.

But yes, W. Bush is the worst.

While I agree with the critical evaluation of the George W presidency what I find depressing is the "whining" nature of the article. I believe in liberal economics. I also believe that government control of things like a police force, and army, etc..makes good sense. If you folks ever hope to generate a significant following (and I hope you do)start by offering a positive vision of what the future could be.

Two replies to earlier comments:

I can't speak for Pete, but I have offered my own reasons for being skeptical of Ron Paul from what I'd label a "left-libertarian" perspective in a blog post here: http://hnn.us/blogs/comments/45044.html

And for my old friend Dave:

I think the resolution of the apparent paradox is in the forces Pete identified at the end of his post. If the gains from trade and innovation are so strong that they outweigh (on net) the awfulness of any particular president, it's certainly possible to argue that "things are getting better all the time" and that the current president is the worst since whenever. Implicit in that point is that if Bush or whomever were better, things would be getting EVEN BETTER all the time.

For me, the test of "things are getting better" claim is simple: if you could pick the time period in which your children would come to adulthood, would it be any time but the present? It takes me a nanosecond to say "of course not." Human life has never been better than it is right now, but that's in spite of the growth of the state not because of it.

And I don't just mean this in terms of material standards of living. Looking historically, slavery is gone from US society and mostly from the planet, women have freedoms they never had before, people can make choices in their personal lives without state intervention in ways they never could in the past. Yes, things like the Patriot Act are steps backward, and open the door to larger steps backward, but the secular trend is clear.

I don't think that's contradictory with calling Bush the worst president since 1960.

"For me, the test of "things are getting better" claim is simple: if you could pick the time period in which your children would come to adulthood, would it be any time but the present? It takes me a nanosecond to say "of course not."

But Steve, you must be speaking poetically here. If that's your test, as a social scientist, it's truly not much of a test. What about the parent whose kid hasn't come back from Iraq? I don't know if it would take them a nanosecond to reach the same conclusion as you. What weight should we give to that tester? So then what, we leave the question to some kind of vote? Raise your hand if you agree with Steve's answer to his simple test, raise your hand if you disagree with Steve?

Also, who gets to vote? Social scientists and clear-thinking historians, or any household that may or may not have systematically studied the past?

In short, your "simple test" might be simple, but come on, it's not a test!

And, personally, I really don't know what "if you can pick the time period..." means. That kind of question is, to me, pure nonsense. Honestly.

Call it a veil of ignorance argument Dave. If you didn't know which individual your kid would be, or if your kid were the median/average individual, in what period of time would you rather they grew to adulthood if your concern was with them living long and well?

But you're right: it's ultimately not a rigorous social scientific argument. It's a poetic one. But that doesn't make it irrelevant. If it only takes me a nanosecond to say "now," that should probably tell me something about how I'd want to orient my social scientific thinking, no? If others would say "now" as well, that would be relevant, no?

Sorry if you think it's nonsense, but it tells me something pretty clear about the world being "better" today than ever before when I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to want my kids to be growing up today than any time in the past. That's all the "things are getting better" argument boils down to, for me.

For all the doom and gloom of many about how things are so much worse today than in their parents' or grandparents' generations, that question seems to me to be one way to see if people really believe that. If they wouldn't want their kids to grow up "back then," then maybe *their* implicit social science is wrong.

How do you figure Bush is worse than LBJ? Is Iraq worse than Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin lie? Is his spending worse than the Great Society? Or is there something I'm missing?

I echo the notion that it is senseless for any self described libertarian to not support Ron Paul. I mean really! Some of you admit to having voted for W but somehow Paul is not worthy???!!

Puhlease!!!

Talk about being overly picky and impossible to please.....while making no sense.

And yes, Dr Horowitz, I read your Paul piece and commented on it at http://.freedomdemocrats.org/node/2158

And I am very libertarian, a fan of Austrian Economics and have a somewhat cultural left POV just like you. I agreed with everything you said and still support Paul 110% just the same. How can I not in light of the other choices????

Maybe you or Boetttke should run and I'll support you instead. But until then, he's my only choice.

G,

You ask whether it is possible that Bush has out-spent LBJ??? I provide the link to the data that says YES.

Pete

Let me try to come up with all kinds of fantastic justifications for the war in Iraq:

1. The US was really angry after 9-11 and wanted it'd be known.

2. The US military loses its edge if it goes too long without fighting in a realistic conflict.

3. The forces that wish for a global government (Kyoto, the UN, etc...) were getting too ambitious and the US wanted to show that it can still go at it alone.

4. Since the US government was going to go berserk anyways after 9-11 we should consider ourselves lucky that it satisfied its rage with a couple wars overseas rather than seriously clamping down on civil liberties on US soil.

Other suggestions? (I'll soon read the Chris Coyne book...).

John V writes:

"Some of you admit to having voted for W but somehow Paul is not worthy???!!"

Which "you" would that be? I don't believe any of the contributors to this blog voted for W. I sure as hell didn't. I'd be shocked if Pete, Pete, or Chris did.

And there's always an alternative to supporting Ron Paul: conscientious abstention. I simply don't believe that the electoral process is the most effective way to generate real political change. I'm not going to support a candidate who I disagreements with on issues I consider serious (and who is getting support from groups I consider to be abhorrent) when the payoff is so low. There's a noble libertarian tradition of conscientious abstention. I intend to follow it.

Dr. Horwitz,

Sorry if I implied that you voted for W. Actually, now that I reread the thread, it was someone who wasn't a contributor who said he voted for him.

As for the rest of your reply, I can understand your misgivings about Paul. Nonetheless, I personally don't think it's a good reason to not support him. Yes, he won't win in all likelihood but he still on the right side of the biggest issues we face in foreign policy, economic policy, matters of constitutional governance and the relationship between economic and personal freedom with the least amount of stupid government as possible.

I think that's the large majority of the battle right there. "Conscientious Abstention" is a noble position but I've often heard the saying:

"Perfect can be the enemy of the Good"

and I think it applies here to rejecting Paul.

I certainly share the sentiment that Paul has some unsavory supporters. But the vast majority of his supporters are libertarians like me or you or most others here. I don't support Paul to make common cause with some of the small pockets of un-libertarian morons who support him. I support Paul because he's giving voice to the general libertarian message of maximizing personal freedom AND economic freedom through less government. "Cosmopolitan libertarians" would be ideal but I'll take a genuine libertarian lacking in "cosmopolitan-ness" over a cosmopolitan nanny statist-loving autocrat any day.

My biggest hope is that Paul is emboldening other aspiring libertarians to run for office and advocate our general perspective.

If you were really pluralist, wouldn't you be willing to put up with "unsavory" characters supporting Paul? The guilt-by-association stuff is best left to David Horowitz and the neocons.

As to the thread topic,

Yes, GWB is most definitely the worst president of my lifetime...which goes back to Nixon.

I often laugh when some conservatives try to make a case for Carter being the worst. It may sound like an easy claim to make but when you look up close, it's hard to put a lot of blame on Carter for what was wrong during his era. For his part, he did try to do some good things in the regulation department while keeping spending steady. The interest rates we had back then were not his fault either.

So, once you take Carter out of contention after a cursory examination, who else is there? Nobody really. From spending to civil liberties to foreign policy to governance matters, W is the almost th whole enchilada...especially compared to conditions when he came in.

Looking back further, It's hard to make an argument for anyone else outside of LBJ...and maybe FDR. But LBJ did some good things in the area of civil rights. A good economy helped mask the wild spending spree for butter and guns he was recklessly pushing until after he left office. FDR is a mixed bag whose NRA-related domestic policies look worse and worse through the lens of history. Yes, he did some questionable things that have lasted that you can tepidly defend or excuse given the context but he did a lot of really really bad things with the economy in the process. Nonetheless, he was a product of the time so a little slack is in order.

Bush simply simply has done a lot of really bad things that looked really bad in real time.

The parallels between the late 50s/60s before the 70s and the late 90s/00s before 10s will be even more eerily similar if we go bust after 2010.

TGGP:

It's not "guilt by association" if there are reasons why those folks are supporting Paul that are connected to Paul's own actions. I think there are ways in which the campaign has presented itself, and choices RP has made over the years about how he says things and who he says them too, that can explain why those groups support him. Their stance on immigration is certainly a biggie.

At the very least, why won't he at least explicitly say he does not want the support of racist and anti-Semitic groups such as the KKK? Even if we accept your position that there's no connection there, wouldn't that make it MORE likely and more easy for him to distance himself?

Why would they support him because of his stance on immigration? He's certainly the most open-boarders guy in the GOP. He's the only guy on either party, to my knowledge, calling for the elimination of subsidies and incentives to immigration so that boarders can be opened up. He stated in one debate that he looks fondly on the open-boarders of the 19th century, and believes that is possible with a laissez-faire economy.

If they wanted an anti-immigrant candidate, I'd think they'd vote for Tancredo. I'd imagine racist groups support him because he is strongly in favor total freedom of association.

I suppose he is somewhat hard on enforcing immigration laws while those subsidies and incentives are in place (which I'd imagine he realizes are not going anywhere any time soon). However, I don't think any serious policy of open immigration is possible with a state welfare system, so I don't see any option other than Paul.

Since the left depends entirely on the assumption that taking from the rich to give to the poor reduces inequality, it would be utterly demolished by the opposite-most conclusion, that it didn't reduce but increased inequality.

Those of you so bound and determined to protect it from that conclusion have only yourselves to blame for the consequences.

Dr. Horowitz,

"At the very least, why won't he at least explicitly say he does not want the support of racist and anti-Semitic groups such as the KKK? Even if we accept your position that there's no connection there, wouldn't that make it MORE likely and more easy for him to distance himself?"

Because, and I am sure you know this already, it opens up a big can of worms to look into the motivations of each and every donor. Dr. Paul takes donations for those who support HIS campaign. HIS message. I am sure you are familiar with the cold reception even lobbyists receive at Ron Paul's office. If they want to waste their money by donating to him when their agenda will not be advanced so be it.

As for racist and anti-semitic groups in the plural, who do you speak of? How many racist groups do you have evidence of vocally supporting Dr. Paul? One guy who donated to the campaign?

I choose not to comment here because the topics are generally too complex for me. However, the topic here is one that I feel that I am capable of commenting upon. This is a subject which, in my mind, requires only a cursory knowledge of the current and former presidents.

I would like to comment on one thing that you (P. Boettke) said in your post. You said, "So like Mises before us, we may have to admit to ourselves that our aspirations to be theorists will be crowded out by the reality of becoming historians of a decline." From someone in his mid-20's let me tell you that this is a truly terrifying statement. Even if I did not have an active interest in AE or pre-20th century American history, this comment would still terrify me because I do pay attention to current demographic statistics and economic fundamentals.

The problems that we are facing must be somewhat abstract to you and people older than you. At the risk of sounding rude, your exposure to the problems will be limited by the mere fact that you will probably die in the next 30 to 40 years, thus exposing you to only a limited amount of hardship (perhaps only 10 to 20 years). However, for those of us who are likely to live another 50 to 60 years the problems are not quite so abstract. We are facing problems that the previous generations have caused and will have no choice but to live under different political and economic conditions for a much longer period of time.

While this may cause some to feel nothing but anger and contempt for the people that have had the greatest hand in causing the problems, I can't help but feel somewhat apathetic. I feel apathetic about the problems because I know that there is little that can be done to avert the inevitable changes that must come at the expense of my generation and those that will come after us.

As for my opinion on the subject of which president was the worst, I'd have to say that the award is one that cannot go to any single president. We have certainly had presidents that have been much worse than Bush in certain aspects of governing. However, I'm not sure if we've had one that has been as bad at so many aspects of governing. Bush could most certainly claim the title of being the jack of all bad governing traits, master of none.

Dear Justin,

I have two sons so I care deeply about the issues you raise. My concerns are not limited to my life expectancy.

However, I do not think apathy is the right response. Instead, the right response is one of using all the skills and talents at your disposal to educate yourself on the teachings of classical liberalism and learning how to communicate those principles as effectively as you can to as many people as you can.

When I got interested in Austrian Economics and classical liberalism, one must remember, it was a dark day. I was still registering for the draft, the economy was in the pits, gold had gone to $800 per ounce, gas lines characterized my youthful driving experience, and the memory of Vietnam was very fresh and the Iranian hostage crisis was being experienced in real-time.

The future from the perspective of 1979 did not look so bright. I should add three quarters of the world population lived under communism at the time.

From the perspective in 2007 looking backward, we see a period of great optimism from 1980-2001. A period of the collapse of communism, the expansion of market-oriented thinking, and amazing changes in the technological landscape. But as we head into 2008, the picture is somewhat bleak --- bleak as it was in 1979?!

So as Jim Buchanan has often said, he is an optimist when he looks backward, but a pessimist when he looks forward. We need to keep fighting the good fight, correct errors in public opinion, and teach good economics.

And remember to say that a situation is hopeless is to say it is ideal. So the situation is not hopeless, it is remedial. We just have to work hard to continually educate ourselves and to communicate as effectively as we can to others what we have learned.

Pete

Peter Boettke says, "We just have to work hard to continually educate ourselves and to communicate as effectively as we can to others what we have learned."

When are you going to start?

Mr Lesvic, is it really necessary to insult your host every second comment?

Please grow up and recognize that you can learn much from the economists on this blog (Prof B, Prof H, etc)

Mac,

I share your high regard for our hosts. They have responded to me with all the courtesy and fairness anyone could hope for, and deserve complete respect and admiration in return.

But that doesn't mean I have to give up my fight.

dglesvic,

and what fight is that? It's not entirely clear to me.

For the "new" idea, that taking from the rich to give to the poor does not reduce but increases inequality.
Again I'm posting for DG Lesvic who still is unable to post.

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