While unemployment has backed off from its high point a few years ago, it's still high, depressing wages and dragging down the economy. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that President Obama has been pushing for federal job creation to help ease the stress -- and pour some much-needed middle class spending into the economy. Last week, he put an interesting offer on the table: In return for simplifying the corporate income tax code and cutting the top corporate rate by 7 percent, he wanted Congress to agree to increase infrastructure spending, a move that would have increased construction jobs while performing some much-needed maintenance and improvement.
Despite the fact that the proposal acquiesced to one of the GOP's favorite demands -- a lower corporate tax rate -- Republican legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), were quick to turn it down. McConnell's stated reason was that the proposal was "Just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago." It's worth noting, however, that the GOP has shot down everymajorDemocratic job-creation proposal of the past few years.
Arguments for killing job proposals have generally focused on the dangers of deficit spending and the need to slim down the budget -- a quixotic claim, given the fact that reputable economists tend to question the effectiveness of austerity cuts.
For that matter, the Republican case isn't helped by the fact that Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the economists most often cited by the pro-austerity crowd, have been soundly discredited.
On Saturday, President Clinton's secretary of labor, Robert Reich, offered another explanation for Republican refusals to entertain job-creating legislation: He suggests that the Grand Old Party may actually want to keep unemployment high.
Reich's reasons are compelling (if a little cold-blooded). As he notes, high unemployment keeps wages low, keeps bond yields low, and keeps voters afraid -- three factors that directly help Republican politicians, as well as benefiting the bankers and corporations that fill their coffers.
On the one hand, it's a little extreme to assume that the Republican party is selling out tens of millions of voters for billions of dollars. On the other hand, this wouldn't be the first time that the Grand Old Party used questionable economic policies to support its patrons on Wall Street.
Clinton Labor Secretary: GOP Wants to Keep Unemployment High
Like his fifth cousin Teddy, FDR got most of his money through family holdings. Worth $60 million (in today's dollars) at his peak, he had residences in New York, Maine and Georgia. Then again, he didn't own his famous New York estate until after his mother died in 1941.
Hoover made his money as a mining company executive: After putting 17 years into the business, he ended up with a $75 million fortune -- and extensive holdings in various mining companies.
Few presidents came from more modest origins than LBJ, but his investments in broadcasting, cattle and private aviation left him with a net worth that topped $98 million.
Madison's 5,000-acre farm was worth a lot, but much of his money derived from his positions as secretary of state and president. And while his fortune at one point reached $101 million, he ended up losing much of it as his farm became less profitable.
JFK had little personal money, but the value of the Kennedy family fortune has been estimated at as much as $1 billion. As one of the nine Kennedy children, JFK's portion would have made him the fifth richest U.S. president in history -- had he lived to inherit it.
Andrew Jackson made his money the old fashioned way: He married into it. Between his 1,500-acre estate and his extensive slave holdings, his fortune topped out at an estimated $119 million.
Teddy Roosevelt inherited an estimated $125 million trust fund, then lost much of it on a failed land venture. Still, his earnings from his writings and his 235-acre estate on Long Island left him in good shape.
Thomas Jefferson was also land-rich: Among other holdings, he owned 5,000 acres at Monticello. But his fortune -- which topped out at an estimated $212 million -- had plummeted by the time he died, and his family had to sell much of his property to pay off his debts.
The Father of his Country was also its richest president: Estimates of his wealth range as high as $525 million. Among other things, he owned 8,000 acres of prime real estate on the banks of the Potomac River -- as well as 300 slaves.
(Wealth is relatively easy to measure: Who's poorest -- that's a tougher thing to gauge. The following presidents are in the bottom tier. But we won't try to rank them in order.)
It's well known that before he went into politics, Truman was a haberdasher, but his men's clothing store nearly went bankrupt. His 18 years in Washington didn't net him a lot of money either, but he saved carefully and was able to live comfortably after he left office. He and his wife, Bess, were the two first recipients of Medicare.
"Silent" Cal Coolidge was not known for his flamboyance. After his presidency, he made a solid living as a newspaper columnist and memoirist, but most of his money was tied up in his home in Northampton, Mass.
Education isn't a particularly lucrative occupation, and Wilson's tenure at Princeton didn't leave him a wealthy man -- even though he was for a time the president of the university. Neither, for that matter, did his stints in the New Jersey governor's mansion and the White House.
Although Chester Arthur made a reasonable amount of money as a lawyer and politician, he died with less than $1 million in net worth, putting him among the less affluent ex-presidents.
A log cabin president like Lincoln, James Garfield spent much of his life in public service. In his case, it didn't pay very well: When he was assassinated in 1881, he was more or less penniless.
One of the most colorful men to occupy the White House, Grant lost his fortune when his son's business partner, Ferdinand Ward, defrauded his investors -- among them, the former president.
Andrew Johnson started out as a tailor before rising to become a mayor, a Tennessee state legislator, a governor, a senator and a president. Along the way, he made a small fortune, but lost half of it when his bank failed.
Abraham Lincoln was famously honest, which helps explain why he took on the debts of a deadbeat business partner. The decision left him deeply in debt -- a situation that was later somewhat rectified by his successful legal career.
James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln's predecessor, was also born in a log cabin. Unlike earlier presidents, he only benefited modestly from his years in public service: Estimates of his personal fortune place it at less than $1 million.