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Government Spending 1962-2011

Updated on May 7, 2013

With all of the self-serving claims made by politicians accusing each other of increasing the size of our government's deficit, what is the truth about our government's spending? In order to answer this question, I have used the data, provided at, to provide a clear picture of how government spending has changed over the past 50 years.

The US government provides data, in the form of spread sheets, providing extensive details on how it spends our money. However, to be meaningful, this data must be adjusted to take into account inflation and the size of the population. To adjust for this, all of the numbers presented below have been adjusted for inflation and are in 2012 dollars. They are also divided by the total US population for each year to yield the government spending per person which is probably the best measure of the size of government. The following graph shows how government spending has changed from 1962 to 2012 showing the times of the various presidential administrations:

What really stands out in this graph is the sharp rise in 2009, at the beginning of the Obama administration, and the flat spot during the Clinton Administration when not only was the budget balanced but the size of the government actually decreased leveling off at a little more than $8,000 per person.

The sharp rise in 2009 was due to the stimulus Act which was passed by Congress in February 2009 and signed into law by President Obama. Since the the stimulus was in reaction to a global crisis that happened before the Obama administration it is questionable whether it can be fully attributed to that administration.

As the graph clearly shows, the last Bush administration contributed the most to increasing the "size" of government, increasing it by almost 20 percent. This is even more so if one attributes some of the stimulus spending to actions taken in the Bush administration like the Afghanistan and Iraq war. The Reagan administration is second with an increase of about 10 percent. After the initial sharp rise due to stimulus spending the Obama administration has actually seen a reduction in the size of the government throughout most of it's administration.

This is in stark contrast to the image being presented by the republicans as being the party that will control the size of government. At least it appears they haven't in the past. In fact the only democratic administration in this period that significantly increased the size of the government was LBJ when Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965.


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