All the Numbers You Always Wanted on Government Spending (But Were Afraid to Ask)

January 9, 2013

(Come for the pretty graphs; stay for the mounting sense of terror!)

I thought it would be useful to have all these data together in one place for easy reference, illustrated with easy-to-understand graphs, with links to solid sources.  I’ve even added a convenient hyperlinked table of contents:

To be honest, I put this together more for my convenience than for anyone else’s, but of course if you find it useful as well, feel free to use and share it.

Government Keeps Growing

In 1902 (the first year for which data are available), government spending in America (federal, state, and local—all of it, combined) took up only 6.9% of the economy (GDP); in 2010 (the last year for which data are available), it was 41.0%.

In other words, in just a few generations, the government has gone from well under a tenth to representing more than two fifths of all economic activity in the country.

Growth of Government (Combined) over the Twentieth Century

This dramatic graph of advancing sclerosis comes from U. S. Government Spending .com, which shows the numbers and links to its sources.

(For those not concerned yet:  If you’re not actually a Communist, you don’t want that number to reach 100%.  How high would it have to get before you would be concerned?  Do you have reason to believe that, contrary to the trend of more than a century, government will stop growing now?  Do you know something we don’t?)

Forced Redistribution Is Now the Main Thing the Federal Government Does

That’s a remarkable statement to be able to make, but it’s true:  Dollar for dollar, forced redistribution is not only the single biggest thing the federal government does, but is the majority of what it does.

Don’t take my word for it; take it from these guys (scroll down to the pie chart), who think these programs are a good thing:  The chart shows the “entitlement” programs Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP (Wikipedia) together accounting for 21% of federal spending; Social Security 20%; and other “safety net” (i.e., forced-redistribution) programs 13%, for a total of 54% of all federal spending.

Defense (apparently including foreign aid)—you know, the core function of the federal government, the main reason for having a federal government at all—comes in at 20%.

“Fair Share”

The only non-arbitrary way to define “fair share” (say, for purposes of federal income taxes) would be a flat rate—I.e., if the rate is (e.g.) 15%:  If you earn $20,000 a year, you pay $3,000; if you earn $100,000 a year, you pay $15,000; etc.

Some people have the mistaken idea that the rich, whether because much of their income is taxed as capital gains or through other “loopholes”, are overall actually paying less than a proportionate share.  The truth is just the opposite, and dramatically so:

Income, Taxes (2)

Income, Taxes

Federal Government Borrows More than a Third of Every Dollar It Spends

As you can see from the government’s own data (linked from this page, Congressional Budget Office), under President Obama, the federal government has borrowed more than a third of every dollar it spent for all years for which data are available (40.2% of every dollar spent in 2009, 37.4% in 2010, and 36.0% in 2011).  This is sharply up from the numbers under Bush.

You can easily get the numbers the same way I did:  Go to the Excel spreadsheet linked above, go to rows 51-54 (2009-2011), and divide column L (deficit, or revenues minus outlays) by column D (“outlays”, i.e. spending).

Don’t take my word for it; this piece, which tries to give conservatives no quarter, agrees with my math.

(It also offers more sanguine projections of borrowing only 27¢ for every dollar spent in 2012—which would still be terribly irresponsible, and much worse than any year under Bush—but unfortunately we now know that even that didn’t pan out:  According to CNN, the federal deficit in fiscal year 2012 was 1.1 trillion dollars and spending 3.54 trillion, which comes to borrowing 31.1% of every dollar we spend.  According to the Department of the Treasury, in the two months after that, we were already back up to borrowing 45.8% of everything we spend.)

Borrowing a third of every dollar we spend means, in other words, spending 50% more money than we have.  It’s as if a man making $40,000 a year were living way beyond his means and spending $60,000 a year, putting $20,000 on the credit card—every year, year after year.

“But I Heard Obama Has Been Really Responsible!”

Sure, if you call spending 50% more than we take in “responsible”.  Just for comparison, here are the federal budget deficits for the Obama and Bush years:


As you can see, the smallest deficit under President Obama is more than twice as bad as the worst year under Bush.

Again, don’t take my word for it; this site, U. S. Government Debt .us, shows the numbers and links to its sources.  It also lets you customize the chart; so you can see that again in inflation-adjusted dollars if you would prefer.  It doesn’t make much difference.  Here’s the same comparison with every president going back to Reagan.  Go ahead, take a look; Obama’s deficits (a trillion dollars a year!) dwarf them all.


11 Responses to “All the Numbers You Always Wanted on Government Spending (But Were Afraid to Ask)”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    So I work for 50 years, pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for 50 years, and the benefits that I receive when I retire are forced redistribution? Who is the money being redistributed from, from me to myself?

  2. […] great set of graphs showing the growth of government spending and who really pays taxes — All the Numbers You Always Wanted on Government Spending (But Were Afraid to Ask).  Here’s an example.  Anyone think this is […]

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  4. […] (You don’t have to be familiar with the Daily Show; it’s clear even just from this clip that Jon Stewart is plenty liberal.  He talks as if, apart from these scandals, it would be some kooky fringe crackpot theory to say that the federal government is too big, which it is.) […]

  5. […] “All the Numbers You Always Wanted on Government Spending (But Were Afraid to Ask)” […]

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  9. […] have grown out of control (and largely without voters’ having any idea), to the point where forced redistribution accounts for well over half of all federal spending.  In other words, dollar for dollar, forced redistribution is now the main thing the federal […]

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