Government Per Capita Spending: Up, Up, And Away! Or, Happy Tax Day!

Here it is, folks. Right from The amount of Federal Government spending per capita from 1901 to the present and projected out to 2019. Population projections were taken from the Census Bureau. Everything is adjusted to 2008 dollars (since we’re interested in the shape of this curve, the base year doesn’t matter).

The sky's the limit!
The sky’s the limit!

This is an update to last year’s The Most Depressing Graph: Per Capita Federal Spending Rises Alarmingly.

The bumps are wars, naturally: the big ones—WWI, WWII, Cold, Afghanistan/Iraq—are easily seen. Korea and Vietnam not so much, but they’re still there (obviously).

The inexorable overall increase in this graph describes the size of Leviathan’s waist.

Sure, the GDP, however that might be calculated, has increased over this same period (also in constant dollars). But for our purposes this matters little. Besides, as the second most depressing graph shows (from last year; not yet updated), government spending as a percentage of GDP has also been on its way upwards and onwards.

I claim this graph is a direct proxy for the level, size, and intrusiveness of government (especially considering spending as percentage of GDP is also increasing at about the same rate). Every dollar spent is a fraction of control. And that control is not slowing; perhaps it is even accelerating, especially when we consider the full effect of Obamacare has not yet been felt.

There is nothing Yours Truly can see, save Divine intervention, which can slow the growth of the beast. Especially since an occult feedback is present. The more control the government has, the more control it, and its citizens for the most part, demand. For example, members of the intelligentsia still pen articles like “Yes, the government should spend more each year“. Too much is never enough.

Neither political party dares cut spending, and thus control, more than by token amounts. Every proposed cut is met by bleating and whining from (some segment of) the populace. The Republicans, it’s true, might slow the acceleration of spending, just as the Democrats would increase it, but there is no evidence the increasing trend will be anything but increasing no matter who is in power.

The amount spent per capita shows the dependence the people have on government. $12,000 (2008 dollars) per person. A family—are we still allowed to use that word? or is it “bigoted”—of four sucks up, on average, $48,000. Well, that money isn’t spread evenly, of course. Those that have get more. Those that have more are those companies which do business with the government; and this isn’t solely military contractors, but universities, hospitals, TSA/NSA suppliers, and so forth.

Don’t let’s forget the deficits remain and are projected to remain. The debt therefore must increase. The closest most politicians come to fixing this problem is to acknowledge the problem might exist. The nearest most citizens come to fixing it is to say, “What debt? I want more.”

All this being true, it becomes a matter of fun to make projections. Simply lining a ruler up to the plot and continuing the line doesn’t seem far wrong. But that doesn’t account for the occult feedback. I’m guessing there will come a year which finds us at an inflection point, where the graph begins a rapid, perhaps even astronomical, increase. This is when we embrace full socialism.

Since that word is anathema to most Americans, we’ll call it something else, just as progressive historians are anxious to paint the National Socialists of Germany as non-socialists. Whatever cosmetic fix is discovered, it seems clear that unless there is outside intervention (war? true pandemic? meteor?) socialism must come.

What do you think?


  1. It would be kinda fun to label the graph: teens peak -> “Making World Safe for Democracy”; forties peak -> “Total War to Defeat strongest and worst evil in Human History”; current peak -> “Saving grandma from a tummy-ache” or “Making sure grandad can still get a boner” or “Making world safe for banking”

  2. Sheri

    Can we stop this? My first thought is “no”–once people find they can appropriate money they did not earn and have no right to, it’s hard to go back. The down side is parasites are either removed or they kill their hosts. I’m not sure “socialism” is where we are heading–socialism is a “nice” term (usually the population actually voluntarily gives up 70% of what it earns to get government handouts), whereas where we are heading is not nice.

  3. MattS


    “Can we stop this?”

    Yes, we can. The real question is are we willing to pay the price for stopping it? That will likely entail violence and bloodshed.

  4. Scotian

    Of course it will stop. As the saying goes: That which can’t go on, won’t. Another saying is: There is a lot of ruin in a nation. When the good time collapses the spending will collapse with it and whether the result is called socialism will be irrelevant.

  5. Ken

    This must stop…at some point government will run out of other people’s money. Michael Fumento a few years ago (Apr 2011) pointed out just how bad things were then (and since its gotten worse):

    •$38 billion: The amount to be cut from this year’s federal budget, with much hooping and hollering by Congress and which Pres. Obama declared “painful.”
    •$1.5 trillion: This year’s projected deficit.
    •2.5 percent: The fraction of the projected deficit that cut reduces.
    •$36 billion: Monthly interest on national debt this fiscal year (March 2010 through March 2011).
    •$139 billion: Monthly increase in national debt from March 2010 to March 2011.

    Yes, we basically paid a month’s interest.


  6. Ken

    As long as the economy grows and the country can finance its debt, borrowers (a significant proportion being international) will continue to finance it. Until they won’t/don’t.

    For the USA, things are looking up as economic growth is, for now, more than offsetting government expenditures; as reported by Reuters: “It expected the U.S. budget deficit to decline to 2.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2014 fiscal year, from 4 percent in fiscal 2013 and 6.7 percent in 2012.”


    The US debt rating downgrade in 2011 was clearly a warning shot…and even recent reporting indicates (by merely being a topic of serious concern) that the potential for a future downgrade is not so far off. That’s relatively new financial territory for the USA.

  7. Nick

    Hopefully this slow and painful death will be met by a slow and painful life as well. I think that a constitutional amendment should be created to require the budget be balanced except in times of war. If Keynesians object to the inability of the government to stimulate down turns, they should account for market stimulation by SAVING a portion of our taxes for a rainy day.
    Why can’t a government save money? Ever?

  8. That a time-increasing portion of GDP is being spent by the government can be explained in part as a response to political rent seeking. Individual citizens seek to increase their fraction of the economic pie by lobbying for policies that increase this fraction but at the cost of decreasing the size of the pie. When the size of the pie gets down toward zero citizens tend to recognize the error of their ways and reorganize as happened, for example, in the former Soviet Union.

  9. checkm

    Now I’m officially depressed. After sending the fed an additional $10k I looked at the chart and my heart sank. I admit that I can’t understand the slide to socialism. When people actually use their brains they understand that the end game of socialism is untenable. I used to think we were 50 or 60 years behind say England. But things have gotten far worse…we may be only 10 years from what England is today. That is to say a society with a dependent and increasingly unhappy permanent underclass featuring bureaucratic control of nearly every aspect of life. I feel sorry for my kids.

  10. Nate

    I want to be an optimist. The USA is still the place that everyone wants to get to, not because of the welfare state (Europe or Canada if you want that), but because it’s the only country in the world where, in general, your abilities and ideas matter more than who your father is. It’s the only place where your membership in a group of folks with similar skin color and eye shape doesn’t matter for getting a job (though we’re headed in the wrong way there).

    America is still a better place to live than anywhere else on Earth. I think there’s a good case to be made for optimism. It’s just so easy to throw in the towel.

  11. Francsois

    Many people thought that the world would go up in a mushroom cloud after the advent of nuclear weapons, it seemed unavoidable. Has not happened yet (still could though). Many thought we would be all starving by now, due to population expansion. Many thought that slavery would go on forever; it has not. With my pessimistic nature, if I was alive during the two world wars, and you asked whether humanity would see out the next 50 years, I would have said “certainly not”. Maybe people will come to their senses. I am inclined to think that we are doomed (I read too much Theodore Dalrymple and David Stove), but I am somewhat hopeful (also read Matt Ridley and Peter Diamndis), will see what happens.

  12. Katie

    What is galling about our taxes is that we are giving our masters the resources to enslave us even more (i.e., surveillance, biometric databases, license plate trackers). Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean that it should be pressed into use.

  13. Sylvain Allard

    It is interesting to see that Canada spend about the same amount per capita than the US. Canada is considered a socialist country by any mean.

    That the US can spend so much while delivering so little services to the pop is somewhat ridiculous. It seams that you would save money by becoming a socialist state.

  14. Bob Lince

    >>What do you think?<<

    I think you are right.

  15. Ian

    This metric seems flawed. Seems like there is double counting going on. Government spending is basically debt plus taxes of private companies and people.

    GOV = debt + r*PRIV

    If we ignore debt for now then the ratio of GOV to GDP is


    which is


    = r/(1+r)

    Without deficit spending the highest this ratio can get is 1/2

    = 1/(1+1) = 1/2

    So a government could have 100% taxes and only be 50% of the economy according to this calculation 🙂

    So a better measure of ‘how big is government’ is tax rate. Did I make a mistake in thinking somewhere in there?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *