NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 12, 2010

How much money does it take for the governments of sovereign nations to do their job?  Countries run by social democratic or socialist parties will spend lavishly on cradle-to-grave social systems.  When Americans think of countries with really big governments, they probably think of Sweden or France or Finland.  Most of Europe is thought to have much larger governments than the United States.  Unfortunately, this is not true anymore, says economist and author, John Lott. 

Even after adjusting for differences in the cost of living and taking into account how many people live in the country, total United States government spending -- at all levels of government -- accounts for more real resources per capita than 95 percent of the countries in the world.  In fact, 166 out of 175 countries have governments that spend less money than the United States, says Lott: 

  • Our government spends 276 percent more than is spent by the average government of another country around the world; that comes out to about $17,400 per person living in the United States -- almost $70,000 for a family of four.
  • Sweden's famous "welfare state" spends only about 8.6 percent more per capita than the United States -- probably a much smaller difference than most would have guessed.
  • France spends virtually the same amount as the United States, just 1.6 percent more.
  • Meanwhile, Finland spends 6 percent less; countries such as Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom do not even come close to the United States.
  • In addition, our neighbor Canada spends 14 percent less per capita than the United States, and Japan spends 32 percent less. 

With the new trillion-dollar health law signed by President Obama the United States total spending and rank is guaranteed to go up further, says Lott. 

The federal government has control over more resources per capita than virtually any other country in the world.  The government decides from whom the money is taken from, who gets it, and how that money can be spent.  Of course, the money also pays for the enforcement of all the regulations and laws that tell us what to do.  That is a huge amount of government control over people's lives, says Lott. 

Source:  John Lott, "Our Bloated Federal Government Is Already Much, Much Bigger Than You Think," Fox News, April 8, 2010. 

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