Cato Institute: Government spending is 41% of GDP

Cato Institute: Government spending is 41% of GDP

I love the Cato Institute because they give us the facts that liberals just can’t refute. Instead of trying to raise our taxes, President Obama should be cutting spending.

American Government Spending: 41% of GDP

Posted by Chris Edwards

My good friend Kathy Ruffing at CBPP takes me to task for testifying that government spending in the United States is 41 percent of GDP, which in my view is a very high and harmful level.

Kathy says that recent U.S. spending data is “exaggerated” because of the recession, and indeed, spending has soared not only here, but in most major countries because of the unfortunate popularity of Keynesian pump-priming theories. My point was that the American smaller-government advantage eroded both during the Bush growth years and during the Obama recession years, as seen in Figure 2 of my testimony.  

Kathy noted that the OECD data I used are different than U.S. national income accounts data published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Well, that’s right. Every country has quirks in the way they do their national income data. The advantage of using OECD data is that the economists at the OECD adjust for these quirks and create spending data that is comparable across countries. If Kathy has more accurate international comparisons, I’d love to see them.

Finally, Kathy says that just because American government spending divided by GDP is about 40 percent, that “doesn’t mean that government controls about 40 percent of the U.S.economy.” I don’t agree. She means that government does not produce 40 percent of gross domestic product, which is true. The broader figure of 40 or 41 percent includes not just government production but government transfers. And transfers do entail government control over resources because both the taxing and spending activities involved in transfer programs distort private sector behavior. Thus, the government misallocates resources both when it “produces” useless solar power activities in its own labs and when it subsidizes failed private solar companies.   

Anyway, thanks to Kathy for raising the important issue of the overall size of government because it is something that the policy community should focus more attention on. For data geeks, the OECD has all kinds of cross-country comparison data here. Government spending is Table 25.

Federal Spending per Household Is Skyrocketing

Everyone wants to know more about the budget and here is some key information with a chart from the Heritage Foundation and a video from the Cato Institute.

The federal government is spending more per household than ever before. Since 1965, spending per household has grown by nearly 162 percent, from $11,431 in 1965 to $29,401 in 2010. From 2010 to 2021, it is projected to rise to $35,773, a 22 percent increase.

INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS (2010)

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Federal Spending per Household Is Skyrocketing

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, White House Office of Management and Budget, and Congressional Budget Office.

Chart 1 of 42

In Depth

  • Policy Papers for Researchers

  • Technical Notes

    The charts in this book are based primarily on data available as of March 2011 from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The charts using OMB data display the historical growth of the federal government to 2010 while the charts using CBO data display both historical and projected growth from as early as 1940 to 2084. Projections based on OMB data are taken from the White House Fiscal Year 2012 budget. The charts provide data on an annual basis except… Read More

  • Authors

    Emily GoffResearch Assistant
    Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy StudiesKathryn NixPolicy Analyst
    Center for Health Policy StudiesJohn FlemingSenior Data Graphics Editor

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