Posted by: Chris | May 21, 2010

The Wealth of Presidents

The Atlantic has a nifty chart estimating the net worth of all 43 occupants of the White House (before you comment, MM: Cleveland counts twice).  They seem to peg shifts in presidential fortunes to macroeconomic trends (changes in then banking system followed by the industrial revolution and then the general post-war boom), but it strikes me that the periods they note also track well to the general epochs of American political development.  For example, they link the post-Jackson era to Chester Arthur period’s relative low fortunes to shifts in banking and the rise of a broad middle class of lawyers and public servants.  However, this period is also understood as the peak of the party system and patronage politics.  It seems likely that having parties (and the regular handouts they could provide), rather than individual candidates, dominant made being individually wealthy and or famous much less necessary for would-be presidents.  The patronage system also enabled one to be career politicians, rather than joining government as a break from one’s normal vocation, as previous presidents had, and also funnelled candidates up through the system, rather than having presidential candidates emerge from the public at large.  These trends, I suspect, better account for the depressed presidential fortunes during this era than those presented by the authors.

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