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The Truman Show, Director’s Cut


For those of you who just can’t get enough of the story of how Harry Truman entered the White House with a modest net worth, and then left with a huge fortune, in no small part because he — how shall I put this — misappropriated? embezzled? stole? the 2021 equivalent of millions of dollars of government money, and then went on to make many millions more by exploiting his status as an ex-president, and then told a bunch of really brazen lies to Congress and the American people about the only reason he wasn’t on welfare was because he inherited the family farm (which he didn’t inherit, but rather bought back from friends at friend prices and then turned around and sold at a massive profit), all of which resulted in the passage of the Former Presidents Act, which gives millions of dollars a year in benefits to the extremely wealthy men who are ex-presidents of the United States, including Donald Trump, who if past is prologue is going to exploit the hell out of that law by for example charging taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year so that he can “rent” “office space” inside Mar-a-Lago, this article tells the whole story in exquisite and possibly excruciating detail.

BTW I’m having a really hard time getting any law review to even consider publishing this thing, which is really . . . odd. In thirty-plus years in legal academia I’ve never encountered so much resistance when I’ve cast my rhetorical pearls before student law review editors before, even when those pearls consisted of telling them they were getting ripped off big time by the institutions they were attending at such exorbitant cost. But there’s something about this piece that has scared everybody off, so far anyway.

Side note: Some of the rationalizations in the comments when I posted my New York Magazine piece on this were doozies. My favorite was that owning five million dollars in farmland doesn’t really make you wealthy, even though the reason that farmland is worth five million dollars is because it can be sold off to commercial developers in a New York minute. (There’s this weird trope in American culture about how being a rich farmer is somehow not the same as just being rich, period, not that Truman was actually a farmer at any point after he came back from the Great War).

Anyway, as an amuse bouche for anyone inclined to gorge themselves further on the fruits of my personal obsession of the moment, here’s Harry Truman’s annual income in the years immediately after he left the White House, when he was shilling so hard for a pension. (Relative income is calculated by comparing his income to the 95th percentile of family income in that year, and then adjusting that figure in terms of the 95th percentile in 2019, i.e., $304,154.)


Nominal Dollars: $34,177

2021 Dollars:   $343,294

Relative Income:  $1,018,913


Nominal Dollars: $13,565

2021 Dollars: $135,748

Relative Income: $395,399


Nominal Dollars: $141,413

2021 Dollars: $1,425,756

Relative Income: $4,057,401


Nominal Dollars: $121,543

2021 Dollars: $1,202,896

Relative Income: $3,239,229


Nominal Dollars: $139,140

2021 Dollars:  $1,332,946

Relative Income: $3,680,251


Nominal Dollars: $137,085

2021 Dollars:  $1,276,906

Relative Income: $3,473,427


Nominal Dollars: $169,502

2021 Dollars: $1,568,010

Relative Income: $4,026,986

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