The Size of Government, Part Deux: A Few More Numbers

After posting this graph, I got to wondering about the composition of government spending over time.  This resulted in a bit more research & number-crunching, & eventually yielded a couple more graphs:

Figure 1:  Distribution of Federal Spending  (% of GDP)

distribution-of-federal-spending-of-gdp[Notes:  “Fed non-def” = non-defense federal consumption & investment.  “Fed interest” = interest on the national debt.  “Fed social” = federal social spending (excluding transfers to states & localities).  I cut off the vertical axis at 22% of GDP for clarity, and because virtually all of the increase in spending during WWII was defense-related anyway (stats available upon request for those who don’t trust me).]

Among the events reflected in these lines:  recent wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam); the Reagan military buildup; the Great Society’s impact on social spending; and the fiscal impact of high Treasury yields combined with ballooning federal debt, followed by the low Treasury yields generated by the “Great Moderation” massive imports of foreign capital.

Inspired by a comment on a previous post,  I also grew curious about the extent to which increased government spending might be due to population growth.  Hence the following:

Figure 2:  Real federal per-capita spending (2000 $)

real-federal-per-capita-spendingI was actually a bit surprised by this graph.  I expected social spending to be a bit more constant when adjusted for population.  Also interesting to me was how real defense spending has basically wavered between $1,500 to $2,000 since the start of the Korean War.

Curiosity regarding the impact of social programs on state & local spending resulted in this graph:

Figure 3:  State & local spending (% of GDP)

state-local-spending-of-gdpIn contrast to federal spending, it seems social programs aren’t a big driver of state & local budgets.

Calculation Notes:

Spending data for the following categories came from BEA’s National Income & Product Account tables:

  • Defense = Table 3.9.5, line 11
  • Fed non-def = Table 3.9.5, line 16
  • Fed interest. = Table 3.2, line 28
  • Fed social = Table 3.12, line 3
  • S&L handouts = Table 3.12, line 27

For Figure 2, nominal GDP data came from BEA Table 1.1.5, line 1; real GDP came from Table 1.1.6, line 1; and each of the nominal quantities listed above (Defense, Fed non-def, etc.) was multiplied by the quotient of real GDP divided by nominal GDP for that year.

Population data for 1929-1999 here; for 2000-2007 here.

“Fed Tot” and “S&L Tot” came from the same data used for this post.


3 Responses to “The Size of Government, Part Deux: A Few More Numbers”

  1. Tom Says:

    Love this post. Ran across it in a Google search for per capita federal spending. What was the source for this data? I’d like to see these updated for the last two years.

    • Avenging Sword Says:

      For sources, see the “Calculation Notes” section at the bottom of the post.

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