US Debt Since the Carter Administration

Robert Lovett, a former Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman, was quoted by Truman in his diary as informing the President that: “A statistician is someone who can draw a straight line from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone conclusion.”

Before writing this I found a website dedicated to the collection of other jokes and humorous commentary about statistics and those who practice the science.  Some of the jokes even go so far as to suggest that statistics may be more art than science.

I’m for considering the source before judging whether a set of numbers are useful or tell me anything.  Consider the following summaries of material you can find at:

As a percentage of Gross National Product, of the last six presidents, Ronald Reagan’s two terms
produced the largest increase in the national debt: 189%.  Next highest was George W. Bush at 89%.  In third place was George H. W. Bush at 56%, followed by Jimmy Carter at 42%, Bill Clinton at 36%, and Barak Obama at 34%.

For national debt increases expressed in per capita percentages, Reagan still holds the lead at 168%; G. W. Bush at 75.2%; G. H. W. Bush at 49.2%; Carter at 36.6%; Obama at 30.9%; and Clinton at 22.5%.

If you go to the website, I think you’ll find the sources for these numbers include the US Treasury
Department and the US Census Bureau, among others.

A few questions:

1)  Doesn’t this show that the national debt as a percentage of gross national product and on a per capita basis increased more when we had Republican presidents?

2)  Given that Carter and G.W.H. Bush were only in office for one term, and Obama has yet to complete one term, doesn’t prorating their figures still make Bill Clinton – by far – the best of our past six presidents at containing the increases in national debt?

3)  Or does all this hint that presidents and our economy are at the mercy of world events, great inventions, new technology, Congress, lobbyists, wars, pestilence, slow internet connections, and other stuff?


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