How big is the US government?

How much money does it take for governments to do their job? This table compares per capita total government expenditures at all levels in different countries using purchasing power parity so as to ensure that each dollar has the same purchasing power in each country. Out of 175 countries, the US places 9th highest. This doesn't quite fit the notion of limited government that the US was founded on. Removing military expenditures only moves the US's rank down to 12th.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Albeit the fact that I think the U.S. government is too big and will get way bigger under Democrats--something I deplore--I think this list mixes things. If a country is very rich, it is still likely to rank high in this list despite a low expediture as a fraction of GDP. For example, let's go to an extreme. Suppose you had a country 10x more productive than any other in the planet. Suppose its GDP per capita would be by far the highest. Suppose also its government only spends 15% of its total GDP. Despite all this, this capitalist utopia would probably top this list.

4/07/2010 8:26 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Adam:

I think that you have ignored the question that I posed in the post: "How much money does it take for governments to do their job?" We have countries that provide a complete cradle-to-grave protection for citizens in their countries for less per citizen than we do. Aren't you even surprised that we provide more government benefits per person than socialist countries? Your response is: we should spend more per capita than these openly socialist countries because we are wealthier. But I am not sure how that answers my question: "How much money does it take for governments to do their job?"

4/07/2010 1:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Besides spending too much, the government spends too much of what it spends on items with no return. Welfare and spending on illegals produces no return for anyone. Conversely, the Apollo space program developed many of the basic technologies of the consumer goods of the 1970s and 1980s with technologies like the Integrated Circuit. Spending on infrastructure such as bridges, roads and power- if done logically- produces an environment for everything from business to personal use to flourish. Buying votes, which has been the primary interest of congress from 1993 on, has been of no value whatsoever.
William Hunt

4/08/2010 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I think you have to compare several variables to get a picture. I could use GDP percentage and get a completely different picture, and you're not looking at other factors of "bigness" such as regulation (Burma, at 7.2% govt. spending which is lowest measured, is pretty far from being the freest country in the world), so the previous comment isn't totally without merit.

Second of all, looking at numbers after a major economic crisis that did hit the US harder than many other countries isn't really right. Try an average since 1990 and your numbers will be very different.

Lastly, I think you might overstate the amount of benefits a citizen of a so-called socialist country hands out. But you could look into the fact that per capita spending on healthcare is much less in countries with govt. provided healthcare than the US system both public and private, if the point you want to make is that money could be spent smarter.

4/08/2010 10:39 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

The report from Heritage.org that is the basis for the American numbers clearly indicates the majority of the vast growth is from the "Housing and Commerce" categor, which is constitutes mostly temporary housing bailout loans. This number is up 10,000% from 2001. I'd be willing to bet sans the bailouts, the spending is line with previous years and is not entirely to be blamed on Obama's administraton, but in big government spending policies that can be traced back through Regan all the way back to FDR.

4/09/2010 10:51 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Christoffer Torris Olsen:

The question that I asked was: "How much money does it take for governments to do their job?" That is a question of how much money to provide welfare, social services, police, medical care, etc. As noted it could also include defense, but the rankings don't vary when that is excluded. You bring up spending as a share of GDP, but you don't answer the question that I posed and you don't respond to my point that real expenditures per person seems like the best measure of the services that the government is providing. Indeed, I am not sure how percent of GDP tells you much at all about the level of services provided.

As to the numbers from 2009 and the economic problems, if you look at Mr. Obama's spending projections they are not planned to be cut back. He plans on reducing the rate of growth, but real per capita expenditures will still be increasing over coming years.

Dear Josh:

The preceding last paragraph also directly deals with the point that you are making.

4/10/2010 12:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Conversely, the Apollo space program developed many of the basic technologies of the consumer goods of the 1970s and 1980s"

Blatant lie.

12/25/2010 4:37 PM  

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