Forbes Special Report
To create our rankings we looked at six measures of economic performance--GDP growth, per capita income growth, employment gains, unemployment rate reduction, inflation reduction and federal deficit reduction--for each of the ten postwar presidencies. For each measure we looked at whether the situation improved or got worse, and we ranked the presidents from 1 to 10. We then averaged the ranks to come up with a final score.
Clinton's two terms in office (1993-2001) were marked by strong numbers for gross domestic product (GDP) and employment growth and especially for deficit reduction. His overall ranking puts him first among the ten postwar presidents--ahead of Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy and Reagan, who were tightly grouped behind the 42nd president and recent autobiographer.
The Ford and Carter years (1974-1981) are widely recalled as a time of economic disaster. But by the numbers they were middling, not awful. Most surprising is that Carter ranks first in job creation as 10 million jobs were added during his four years in office, more on an annualized basis than Clinton or Reagan.
Of the ten postwar presidents, the first President Bush brings up the rear. He ranks dead last for both GDP growth and income growth and also ballooned the deficit at a rate faster than every president but Ford. His one modest success was continuing the dramatic drop in inflation that had started under Reagan. LaSalle's Schubert notes that Bush had "some bad luck," in that the post-Gulf War recovery was too late and too tepid to aid his reelection prospects. But Schubert faults Bush for a lack of perceptible economic policy of any kind, good or bad.