Perhaps Some American Exceptionalism is in Order

In the ongoing polarized debates about the size and scope of government, many American politicians and talking heads are turning to European examples to make their case.

When discussions of increased government spending arise, some conservatives screech “We are turning into profligate overspenders like those irresponsible Greeks!”

When discussions of cutting government spending arise, some liberals lecture “We are turning into heartless penny pinchers like those cruel Brits!”

OECD data on fiscal benefits and public indebtedness (link here) tell a different story.

At the time the 2010 financial crisis began in Greece, its “profligate” government’s spending as a share of GDP was 49.5 percent.

Today, under its “heartless” austerity drive, UK government spending as a share of GDP is….48.8 percent.

The current figure for the U.S. government is 40.4 percent. The putatively profligate Greeks are a lot more like the supposedly austere Brits than either of them is like us.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.