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Comparing Riches Over Time

According to this analysis, George Washington was the richest – in inflation-adjusted money terms – of all the U.S. presidents.  Bill Clinton, by comparison (worth now about $60 million) is only ninth on this list.

But how meaningful are such comparisons?  Was George Washington really, in any meaningful or sensible use of the term, richer than Bill Clinton – or even richer than any randomly chosen middle-class American today?  I believe that the answer is no.

To see why I believe that George Washington’s personal wealth was in fact among the lowest of all American presidents (when the comparison is done across the full span of the 226 years of the U.S. presidency), ask yourself if you’d prefer to have a net worth of $525 million (of 2015 dollars) in the United States of the 1790s or a net worth of a mere $1 million (of 2015 dollars) in the United States of 2015.  I know that, for me at least, answering this question is quite easy: I’ll definitely and without the slightest hesitation take the $1M today.  Indeed, my answer would be the same even if the sum in play for 2015 were a mere $100,000 – and, likely, even if it were only a paltry $0.