It's gathered some dust, and an update is in line, especially since something or other having to do with the global economy occurred between then and 2010, from which the most recent data come. An inquiry from an author (who I won't name but who is certainly welcome to be made known in the comments if he so desires) searching for more recent numbers served as the impetus to actually get it done. Getting out in front of the inevitable objections, a disclaimer: These data do not include all government spending and state, local, and provincial government outlays of course differ from country to country. For consistency, all figures are in exchange rate terms:
|Country||GE as GDP|
|14. United Kingdom||50.9%|
|17. Bosnia and Herzegovina||49.8%|
|21. Equatorial Guinea||47.3%|
|28. New Zealand||44.4%|
|29. Cape Verde||43.9%|
|48. Saudi Arabia||37.7%|
|52. Czech Republic||35.8%|
|54. South Africa||35.6%|
|57. Trinidad and Tobago||35.0%|
|73. Papua New Guinea||30.8%|
|89. Burkina Faso||27.5%|
|90. British Virgin Islands||27.4%|
|110. Sierra Leone||24.5%|
|113. United States||23.6%|
|118. Sri Lanka||22.8%|
|121. El Salvador||22.5%|
|124. South Korea||22.1%|
|125. Cote d'Ivoire||22.0%|
|130. United Arab Emirates||21.0%|
|132. Republic of the Congo||20.6%|
|134. Costa Rica||19.8%|
|146. Hong Kong||17.3%|
|150. Central African Republic||16.5%|
|151. Dominican Republic||16.5%|
To view a visual representation, click here.
As the Iraq war finally draws to a close, at least we were able to transfer one tenet of contemporary Western democracies in a recognizable form to Baghdad. What's that? Isonomy? Respect for dissenting viewpoints? Individual liberty? No, no, no, Don Quixote. It's big government, of course!
Outside of a few paradises like Cuba, Western Europe dominates the top spots. The US figure, in comparison, is a bit of an apples-to-oranges one, as the table is, as mentioned previously, constructed on central (that is, federal) governmental expenditures and does not directly include the spending by local, state, or provincial governments. Around 40% of government spending in the US is doled out through state and local governments, a proportion higher than just about anywhere else in the world. Consequently, the US ratio appears deceptively small.
Still, if non-federal spending is included, the US is neck and neck with Japan, well below the bulk of the rest of the Western world. As ubiquitous as government seems to be stateside, its presence is relatively small compared to Europe.
Parenthetically, Switzerland (for which the CIA factbook includes cantonal and municipal spending in addition to federal spending) , a favorite of the American alternative right, stands apart from the rest of the Old Continent. In so many ways, this beautiful Alpine country instills in pessimistic conservatives a hope for what might yet be.
As a Radio Derb votary, I've long wondered why Turkmenistan is singled out as recipient of so much love on the weekly broadcast. To an ignorant yankee like myself, it's scarcely distinguishable from the rest of the crapistans. I need wonder no longer. The Derb may claim that the president's name is the source of affection, but the table above reveals the truth of the matter!
The relative paucity of government spending in affluent East Asian nations like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and even officially communist China is to some extent a consequence of the absence of generous government-provided welfare systems in these places, with pensions, medical care, and the like mostly covered by employers rather than by the state, as tends to be the case in Western Europe.
There is a statistically significant but modestly positive correlation (.22, p = .01) between a country's per capita GDP and that country's amount of government spending as a share of its GDP. Correlation is not necessarily causation, of course, but with otherwise backwards countries that have enormous resource wealth (ie, Botswana and Saudi Arabia) tending towards the leviathan end of the governmental expenditures scale, to the extent that the causation arrow exists, it probably points from high GDP towards prodigious government spending rather than the other way around.
On its face, there doesn't appear to be much here that validates the libertarian view that minimizing the size of the federal government, and avoiding the consequent economic distortions its continued growth will otherwise cause, should be the exclusive goal of a society wanting economic prosperity and an overall improved quality of life. Ceteris paribus it's relevant, perhaps (I certainly think it is), but there are clearly a host of other demographic and cultural variables that are of greater importance. Who would rather operate a business--or live--in Nigeria instead of in Denmark?