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April 15, 2003

The Ever Increasing Prosperity of the Public Sector


Today, of course, is tax day. Every year we got through the rigamarole of filing taxes, and the very familiarity of the ritual, I think, blinds us to the extent of the changes that have occurred during our lifetimes. So I did a little Internet research and came up with some figures. All are in constant FY 2000 dollars.

Back in 1950—admittedly, four years before I was born—Federal and state governments were waging the cold war and the hot war in Korea on a crummy $2646 per U.S. citizen (men, women and children.) By 1960, while we were still waging the cold war and building the Interstate Highway system, the public sector was sucking up $4102 per capita. By 1970, while we were still waging the cold war and the Vietnam war and finishing the Interstate Highway system, the public sector was getting revenue of $6161 per capita. By 1980, the public sector was up to $7223 per citizen. By 1990, the number had climbed to $8364. By 2000, the public sector was struggling along on a paltry $10,637 per citizen. (Remember, inflation has nothing to do with the growth of these numbers.)

Without putting too fine a point on it, from the time I began to become aware of such things until the present—that is, roughly 1960 through 2000, I do not think that the quality of services provided by the public sector to me or my family improved by two-and-a-half times. In fact, in many respects--public school educations, transportation, crime come to mind--such services seem to have declined over that time period. (I will grant the effectiveness of the military may have increased by more than 2.5 fold, but that seems to be a rather isolated example.)

Possibly the taxpaying public should spend less time dutifully filling out their tax returns and more time inquiring as to exactly what they (as opposed to the manifold special interests with all four feet in the public trough) are getting for the ever increasing real resources they are providing to the public sector.

Somewhat grumpy cheers,


posted by Friedrich at April 15, 2003


I find the Social Security tax for the self-employed to be particularly horrendous. As a person employed by a company, the true size of the monthly "donation" to the SS system is disguised. As a self-employed person, the SS tax is ruinous.

Posted by: Felicity on April 15, 2003 11:18 PM

Interesting analysis. A gentleman named Earl Meyer did a very similar analysis---but from 1948 to 1978 once---came to the same conclusions.

Posted by: annette on April 24, 2003 12:51 PM

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