Mark Zachary Taylor: An Economic Ranking of the US Presidents, 1789–2009: A Data-Based Approach

Roundup: Talking About History

Mark Zachary Taylor is an assistant professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. He can be reached at


How relatively good or bad were the economic performances of our past presidents? The answers to this question remain unclear. Most evaluations of presidential performance cloud the issue with partisan bias and subjective judgments or mix economics together with other policy areas. To address these shortcomings, this article uses new data from the Measuring Worth Project to calculate the relative economic rankings of the United States presidents who served from 1789 until 2009. It analyzes up to 220 years of data on economic growth, unemployment, inflation, government debt, balance of payments, income inequality, currency strength, interest rates, and stock market returns to estimate an economic grade point average for each president. Then, these estimates are used to test for correlations with other variables to generate hypotheses regarding the conditions for superior and inferior economic performance.

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