Terrifying: Increases in Real Per Capita Federal Spending Over The Past 35 Years

The above chart put together by my frequent collaborator Veronique de Rugy is, simply put, terrifying.

It shows the growth in inflation-adjusted federal outlays per capita. So what you're looking at is a trend line that accounts for population growth and inflation.

Two things stand out: George W. Bush was god-awful. And Barack Obama looks to be even worse (note: fiscal 2009 includes spending attributable to both adminstrations).

A third observation: The Republicans seem to be the ones who ratchet up spending while the Dems solidify that amount. Which party will grow into being the crew that brings spending down to something that is affordable?

This is no way to run a country. But it might a great way to wreck the economy. Because government spending crowds out private investment and the "debt overhang" inevitably used to pay for open-ended government spending reduces future economic growth. At least in the 21st century, neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party has shown the slightest interest in actually reining in government spending. They've got slightly different reasons for keeping the cash flowing, but it will absolutely end with the same result: a broke-down and bruised body politic with a rotten future.

For more, read these two pieces by de Rugy and me: "The 19 Percent Solution: How to Balance the Budget without Raising Taxes," and "Generational Warfare: Old-Age Entitlements vs. the Welfare State," 

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  • Hugh Akston||

    So you're saying the government has a revenue problem?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I think they're saying we need more capita. Not enough people.

  • Hugh Akston||

    "Hmm. A hundred and ninty eight billion babies in a few weeks. We'll need an army of super virile men scoring 'round the clock! I'll do my part. Kif, clear my schedule."

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.

  • Loki||

    Just increase the top tax bracket to 100%. Problem solved. /left-tard who failed Math.

  • Restoras||

    /left-tard who failed Math

    In other words, Tony.

  • Drake||

    I thought a Reason writer would at least acknowledge that these Presidents signed or vetoed budgets passed by a Congress. The Republican Congress during the Clinton Administration was the most fiscally conservative in my memory (and they greatly benefited from the end-of-Cold War military reduction).

    The Rinos and Democrat Congresses of the Dubya era were the most irresponsible ever. Shame on Bush for not vetoing everything they passed.

  • R C Dean||

    The Rinos and Democrat Congresses of the Dubya era were the most irresponsible ever.

    I would say "up to that point." I defy anyone to demonstrate that the Pelosi-Reid Congress wasn't the most irresponsible ever, with Reid grimly continuing the irresponsibility after Pelosi lost the House.

  • John||

    Remember when Democrats were saying in 2006 that they needed to take Congress back because the Republican deficits?

  • WTF||

    Remember when Democrats were saying in 2006 that they needed to take Congress back because the Republican deficits?

    But, but BOOOSH!!!11!!! drove the economy onto a ditch! What are you, a teafucking ratbagger?

  • Drake||

    The Pelosi-Reid Congress was during the Dubya Presidency. That is what makes the Democrat "blame-Bush" theme so ridiculous.

    Bush used vetoes vary sparingly and he was overridden at least 3 times.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.....ge_W._Bush

  • Sigivald||

    Seriously.

    I expected better of Mr. Gillespie than that basic failure of high-school Civics material.

    While the President suggests a budget, it's Congress that actually controls it.

    I don't give a flying god-damn what the party of the President was if we're going to throw around partisan blame for the budget.

    I care about which party controlled Congress for the budget-making for that year.

  • TMLutas||

    It's not even the budget committee chairman who controls things. It's the appropriators.

  • John Thacker||

    A lot of what this chart represents is that defense spending is an enormous part of the budget, and changes in defense spending pretty much obscure all other changes. Spending can't get cut without cutting defense.

  • Lord Humungus||

    oh, I could cut spending without defense... it's entitlements that are eating up a huge piece of the pie. But yeah, defense is a good place to start.

  • Restoras||

    Defense sepnding is sacrosanct to everyone in DC. It will never be cut.

  • Zeb||

    Sort of like entitlements.

  • Restoras||

    Yep. The Great Confiscation is coming.

  • John||

    Since the chart doesn't show how much of that is defense spending, it doesn't represent that at all. In fact is shows just the opposite. The most noticeable jump on the chart is from 07 to 09 when defense spending stayed pretty flat as I recall.

  • John Thacker||

    There are three noticeable jumps on the chart: early '80s defense increases, early '00s defense increases, and the '07 to '09 recession (and then consolidation of spending.)

    The parts of the chart where spending stays flat are all where defense stayed flat or was cut.

    Therefore, what I said remains true and you don't dispute it. Spending can't get cut without cutting defense. That doesn't mean that spending can't raise by spending on other things.

    The word "opposite" doesn't mean what you think it means.

  • John||

    Also note, per capita spending stayed virtually unchanged from the late Reagan years right through the Clinton era. This despite the end of the cold war and the accompanying draw down.

    So this chart shows just the opposite of what you are saying. It shows that any money cut from defense will just be spent somewhere else.

  • John Thacker||

    So this chart shows just the opposite of what you are saying. It shows that any money cut from defense will just be spent somewhere else.

    It shows if defense spending is increased, then it's absolutely impossible to keep overall spending down. There are no cases of that happening.

    Surely you agree from looking at the chart that the time periods where defense was increased have increasing spending, and the time periods where defense was cut or stayed the same have stable spending?

    It's impossible to cut spending without also putting defense on the table.

  • John||

    It shows if defense spending is increased, then it's absolutely impossible to keep overall spending down. There are no cases of that happening.

    No it doesn't. The biggest increase in spending was in the late 00s when defense spending stayed flat. And the increases in the 1980s were not all defense.

    You are projecting your own prejudices on the chart. It says little about defense spending and what it does say cuts against your claim.

  • John Thacker||

    So this chart shows just the opposite of what you are saying. It shows that any money cut from defense will just be spent somewhere else.

    That's not the opposite of what I said. The converse and inverse of an syllogism is not the opposite.

    I said that spending can't get cut without cutting defense. That remains true. That doesn't preclude your comments that spending can rise for reasons other than defense, or that spending can rise by other spending rising even if defense is cut.

    Defense is an enormous part of the federal budget. Overall spending can't get cut without cutting it.

  • Redmanfms||

    And long after the fact I'm forced to point out a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy because nobody else saw fit to do so.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm pretty sure you could completely eliminate defense from the budget and still have a deficit.

  • wareagle||

    you could eliminate anything and still have a deficit. The malicious truth is that it is unpossible to come up with an amount of money that Congress is unable to spend.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    You could cut the whole DoD, plus related departments like Homeland Security and the Dept of Energy, and you'd still have a deficit of about $300-400 billion.

  • Zeb||

    It's a sad comment on the current state of affairs, but $300-400 billion sounds pretty reasonable right now.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    A lot of what this chart represents is that defense spending is an enormous part of the budget, and changes in defense spending pretty much obscure all other changes. Spending can't get cut without cutting defense.

    Increases in healthcare spending are also a huge part of that increase as well. Going from $50 billion in 1980 to over $800 billion today is a 9% annual increase.

    Defense does need to get cut, but it's about half of what it took up as a percentage of the budget 60 years ago--and that was when overall spending was a hell of a lot lower than it is now.

  • John Thacker||

    Defense does need to get cut, but it's about half of what it took up as a percentage of the budget 60 years ago--and that was when overall spending was a hell of a lot lower than it is now.

    Doesn't it follow as a matter of course that if overall spending is a hell of a lot higher, then defense would take up a lower percentage of the budget even if it only increased by a lot instead of a hell of a lot?

    Sure, 60 years ago, it was even more true that you couldn't really cut spending without cutting defense, which is why the WWII demobilization under Truman was a big spending cut (which failed to cause the recession that Keynesians thought it would.)

  • John||

    The demobilization after the cold war was a big spending cut. But Congress just spent it elsewhere. If cutting defense were the key to reducing spending, spending would have fallen in the 1990s and it clearly didn't.

  • John Thacker||

    Spending clearly did fall in the 1990s, according to that chart. Not enough, but it did fall.

    And in any case, the track record of spending in the 1990s is better than any other period.

  • MarioLanza||

    "And in any case, the track record of spending in the 1990s is better than any other period."

    Precisely. And it was when Republicans controlled both houses did spending fall. You can see that is when Republicans control both houses, financially sanity reigns and when Democrats control both houses, that insanity reigns:

    http://directorblue.blogspot.c.....rt-to.html

  • John Thacker||

    It's true that some of the defense cuts were spent on other things, but not all of them. If not for the defense cuts, overall spending would not have fallen slightly, as it did, but would have risen.

    Your claim that all the defense cuts were spent on other things is as unlikely as wild Keynesian claims that the multiplier is so high that government spending increases government revenue.

  • John||

    So what that not all of them. The point is that the 1990s puts lie to your assertion that defense cuts are the key. No they are not. Spending barely budged despite a huge draw down in defense spending.

  • Drake||

    I lived in CA during Boxer's '92 Senate campaign. She expressly said "We are going to cut spending on defense, and spent it right here!"

    Damned if she didn't keep that promise.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Doesn't it follow as a matter of course that if overall spending is a hell of a lot higher, then defense would take up a lower percentage of the budget even if it only increased by a lot instead of a hell of a lot?

    Not necessarily--it all depends on the priorities of the society in question.

    60 years ago, over half of the budget was spent on defense. Today, defense spending and entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, SS, and unemployment) take up about 80% all on their own. Defense spending makes up about 25% of the total.

    The math simply shows that cutting defense spending alone isn't going to get you there, not with over a trillion in deficits every year. I'm sorry, but it's not the only area where spending has to come down.

  • Restoras||

    Whatever. In the long run we're all dead so who cares...amiright? AMIRIGHT??

  • sarcasmic||

    Animal Spirits!

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    It is the long run, and Keynes is dead.

  • wareagle||

    Which party will grow into being the crew that brings spending down to something that is affordable?

    I don't believe that grow means what Nick thinks it means.

  • R C Dean||

    Good point. I think the real question is which party will be buried to make way for somebody who might be responsible?

  • Hugh Akston||

    What Nick fails to realize is that it's the people who want to freedomize other countries and give free ponies to the struggling middle class without worrying about how to pay for it who are the grown ups.

    The rest of us are just like little kids, always whining about the budget and the deficit and unsustainable debt burdens.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The Republicans seem to be the ones who ratchet up spending while the Dems solidify that amount.

    No shit.

  • John||

    I guess it was the Republicans who controlled the Congress from 06 to 10 when the really big increases occurred.

    Go die you retarded little monkey.

  • sarcasmic||

    To be fair, the Rs did a great job of ratcheting up the debt in the first part of Bush II's reign.

  • Restoras||

    I don't think anyone denies that. However, Shreek likes to think that absolves the current oval office retard from responsibility.

  • Lord Humungus||

    retards tend to defend retards. It's a retard thing.

  • sarcasmic||

    "But Mommy! He did it first!"

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    Congress will always spend every dollar they can tax, then every dollar they can borrow.

    Of course, only when 100% of the national income is spent for us by benevolent philosopher kings such as Liz Warren will we truly know prosperity. We need the wisdom of our betters to save us from our own ignorance.

  • ant1sthenes||

    To really make the point to clear to those who are swayed by the siren call of "raise taxes, we need to increase revenues!", it would be good to plot inflation-adjusted per capita revenue against it too.

  • T o n y||

    Norway spends about 4 times what the US does per capita, and we all know what a shithole Norway is.

  • Jordan||

    Norway is also flush with filthy oil money, so shouldn't you be hating on them?

  • Restoras||

    Pwned.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    You mean Scandanavian liberalism works in a country populated largely by Scandanavian liberals? How unexpected!

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Organizing 4 million mostly homogeneous people is COMPLETELY different than a 310 million mostly heterogenous nation. Moreover, Norwegians (indeed Scandi's as a whole) are deferent to authority.

  • Redmanfms||

    Second highest suicide rate in the industrialized world? Norway.

    Sniff.

  • scareduck||

    Does this include Bush/43's off-budget wars?

  • Drax the Destroyer||

    Man...I don't like Clinton, but at least that fatty-fucker didn't increase shit... or was kept in check by a vindictive Congress. Either way, his record looks pristine compared to the two tons of shit that followed him.

  • MarioLanza||

    Clinton submitted multiple very deficit laden budgets which Newt Gingrich rejected and Clinton finally acquiesced.

    When Republicans hold both houses, spending goes down.

    http://directorblue.blogspot.c.....rt-to.html

  • submandave||

    "A third observation: The Republicans seem to be the ones who ratchet up spending while the Dems solidify that amount."

    Not exactly sure the data fully supports that conclusion. While the Executive usually directs the attention of the government, spending is controlled by the Legislative. Since Americans have demonstrated a propensity for split government (Executive Legislative held by opposing parties), one could just as well claim that a Democrat Congress is more likely to ratchet up spending while the Rebubs solidify that amount.

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