There is no one picture that can capture the inexorable rise and reach of Leviathan, but if you had to pick just one, the amount of money spent in the name of each citizen has several merits.
Why is spending important? Each dollar spent is a dollar taken from a citizen or created from vapor, and each requires management and an apparatus for agreement, acquiescence, and distribution between citizens and government. Thus the more that is spent, the larger the influence of the government doing the spending.
Up, Up & Away!
If the federal government were as small as it was in 1900, it would today spend the same $180 per citizen as it did then. Given population growth, this would imply a current budget of around $59 billion. The actual budget is $3.6 trillion, which is sixty times higher. Customs duties alone would have paid for a good chunk of the $59 billion. And there would have been no need of an income tax.
The government is now sixty times more intrusive, sixty times more bureaucratic and Byzantine, sixty times more pervasive. The trend in spending increased fifty-percent over the last decade. It shows no sign of stopping.
Your might say, “It doesn’t matter what the government spends as long as it keeps pace with economy as measured by the Gross Domestic Product.” Yet the government spent at the rate of 3% of the GDP in 1900, soaring to 21% now. The shape of that curve is not much different than the spending per capita picture.
Next you might say, “Sure, the government was small in 1900. That’s because X wasn’t around.” “X” will be your favorite redistribution program, which you see as necessary. Yet every redistribution program is claimed to be absolutely necessary by somebody, even the programs which haven’t yet been implemented. Threaten any with defunding, and the program’s advocates start making sounds like Ned Beatty against a tree.
The end of increases
The economist Herbert Stein said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Increases in government spending cannot go on forever. […]
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Regular readers will recall we did this topic four years ago. The article has been completely rewritten, including new data, and a new rousing conclusion, predicting when the spending increases must stop.