Socialist Presidents? Who Comes Closer: FDR, Obama, Or Reagan? (Short Answer: Reagan)

We seem to have a resurgence of folks worrying about socialism. Those claiming rampant socialism have particularly fretted about certain Presidents, but more on that later. First, let’s get an overview of private industry’s percentage of all payrolls since 1939 via the BLS data to put it into broad perspective. If there’s one clear, defining trait of socialism, it’d be that folks work for the government rather than private industry. After all, to qualify as socialism requires social ownership of the means of production. Private employers aren’t socially owned. So the private % of payrolls tells us just how much we’re still a [mostly] capitalist society.

Private percent of total nonfarm payrolls from BLS data

What do we see here? Rather little change in the broad perspective. Clearly we’ll need to get a close up in order to see any differentiation from President to President. Let’s get right to looking at how they stack up. Sadly, using the BLS data only gets us back as far as 1939, so that’ll have to do.

Private percent of total nonfarm payrolls by President from BLS data

Up there we’ve got a picture of the average % private industry occupied of total nonfarm payrolls during each President’s active years. With a high of 86.64% and a low of 80.95%, it’s a rather tight range. It takes a close up to see a difference. But while it’s neck and neck, Truman gets the high mark. Honorable mention should obviously go to that bastion of small government, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with an average of 86.08% private payrolls during the latter part of his term (1939 onward). Ironically, the low mark goes to a man who bore the same surname as an auto industry magnate, President Ford.

Many have focused on the current President lately. In particular, there’s a virtual cottage industry for discussing President Obama in the light of things said by President Reagan. So let’s focus on how those two compare.
Private percent of total nonfarm payrolls under Reagan and Obama from BLS data

The private share of payrolls under President Obama rises a bit above the private share under President Reagan. So if President Obama was a socialist as alleged, that’d make President Reagan a socialist … and an even more effective one at that. Not that President Reagan really was, of course. But this should make it quite clear to anyone who isn’t arguing from an unreasoning bias that President Obama has maintained the largely capitalist nature of America. In his first three years, President Obama has presided over a mostly growing private share of payroll that has averaged higher than that under half of the preceding Presidents since JFK.