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Nobody, in 1900, speculating on the future of government, could have imagined the astonishing growth and scope of government in the 20th century. Nor would they have imagined that, for many people, this gigantic government would seem the very essence of efficiency, compassion, and modernity. But the reason that government has got so big is not, as many claim, the weight of armaments and wars. Instead the money goes for health care, education, pensions, and welfare programs. You can see how it all happened in the United States in the charts below.
Government spending in the United States has steadily increased from seven percent of GDP in 1902 to almost 40 percent today.
Chart 2.21: 20th Century Government Spending
Government Spending started out at the beginning of the 20th century at 6.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As you can see from Chart 2.21, the federal share of that spending was modest. But spending got a big kick in World War I and ended up at about 12 percent of GDP in the 1920s.
Then came the Great Depression, in which President Roosevelt and the New Deal cranked up federal spending, and total government spending rose up to 20 percent of GDP. World War II really showed how the United States could commandeer its national resources for all out war. Government spending peaked at just under 52 percent of GDP in 1945.
President Clinton said, in 1995, that the era of big government was over. But he was wrong. The post World War II era has been a golden age of government spending, and it shows no sign of ending. Although spending dropped back to 21 percent of GDP immediately after WWII, it steadily climbed thereafter until it hit a peak of 35 percent of GDP in the bottom of the recession of 1980-82. Thereafter government spending chugged along in the mid 30s until the mortgage meltdown of 2008. In the aftermath of bank and auto bailouts, government spending surged to wartime levels at 41 percent of GDP. The mortgage emergency seems to have ratcheted out-year spending up a notch. Near term government spending in the future is pegging at 36 percent of GDP.
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Spending data is from official government sources.
Detailed table of spending data sources here.
Federal spending data begins in 1792.
State and local spending data begins in 1820.
State and local spending data for individual states begins in 1957.
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> US, State Pop FY17
Source: CBO Long-Term Budget Outlook .
FY 2018 Outcomes