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PhiNotPi's avatar

How does one measure the "size" of government?

Asked by PhiNotPi (12240 points ) January 22nd, 2014

I’ve always heard people talk about how government is “getting bigger.” I’ve never really understood, however, what makes one government more powerful or “bigger” than another.

Should it be measured by the number/length of regulations?
The percent of population employed by the government?
The per capita expenditures?

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19 Answers

cookieman's avatar

It’s not about the size, it’s about how deeply they penetrate the concerns of the people and provide them with much needed relief.

Wait, we’re talking about government, right?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Right. Size doesn’t matter at all. The key measure of effectiveness is whether it comes to reach its goals.

filmfann's avatar

If the cost to operate the government is greater than 10% of the GNP, it is top heavy. No business can be successful with a greater percentage.

Yes, the obvious penis references were already used.

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penis

rojo's avatar

Government always grows. It never gets smaller. It grows during times of stress (wars, etc) but never seems to shrink after the difficulty has been overcome. Eventually we will all (if we are lucky) become government employees and we will no longer worry about it.

flutherother's avatar

Size means budget and number of employees which have been declining in recent years but it can also mean influence. How much does the government impact your life. The large scale computerised snooping by the NSA is done relatively cheaply and with few people but gives government the power to be everywhere, always.

ragingloli's avatar

The size and cost of the military.

JLeslie's avatar

I think size of government means many things. It can be measured by how much it costs the tax payer. It can be measured by how much it tries to control everything. Control can mean several different things. Controlling commerce is a big one. Controlling people’s personal lives is another.

I almost always get the feeling that when people reference size of government in America they mean the government interferring with a private citizens freedoms. Freedom to conduct business, freedom to not pay taxes, freedom to live as they want where they want. What’s tricky is a lot of people in the US who say they want small government, often mostly mean they want small federal government. A lot of those people are anti-tax, and are actually ok with limiting individual freedoms, and seek to push laws locally, basically growing local government.

dabbler's avatar

@rojo “Government always grows” The U.S. federal government right now has a smaller budget and employs less people than it did when Obama came into office.

@PhiNotPi the people who are telling you that “government is getting bigger” are misinformed or are lying to you. They may be the same sort of people who just want Obama to disappear so they can get on with their racist lives, or they may be the sort of people who believe that the government is good for nothing at all and wish it would go away so they can conduct business without any interference on the people’s behalf.

rojo's avatar

@dabbler is that in actual numbers or as a percentage of the total population of the US?

I will look into it but if I had to guess I would guess that, overall, Local, State and National, you would find that there are actually more people involved it the operation of government and, if you include all the people that have been hired as subcontractors to do the work of the government and thus are not “official” government employees, you and I would be appalled by the numbers.

As I said, I will look into it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I’d use a couple of metric. I’d base one number on the total budget divided by the number of people. The second metric would be total budget divided by GDP. That might be a good place to start.
While the files were open I would look at the total wealth held by the top 5% of the population divided by the total wealth of the country. That would be enlightening too.

Jaxk's avatar

Just to answer some of the questions, here is an historical view of the number of federal employees. And here is total federal spending as a percentage of GDP. Just to give a little perspective to this, here is spending in billions.

The truth is, in 2009 the number of federal employees increased and federal spending increased. Hell even the number of people in the military increased and they have not dropped back.

I think most people view the size of government in terms of how much does it cost and how much is it involved in our daily lives. By both measures, it has grown considerably. Hell, you can’t even buy health insurance anymore without going to the federal government for guidance.

rojo's avatar

And, I would most surely include the military as a part of government and that does nothing but get bigger and consume more of the budget.

@Jaxk, Whenever I access a site and am immediately confronted with a picture of Ted Cruz I immediately question the validity of any information contained therein.

Jaxk's avatar

^ But of course you do.

ragingloli's avatar

And why would he not? You would not trust an anti-jewish article on a Neo Nazi website either.

Jaxk's avatar

Sounds like you need to stick with MSNBC, they’ll tell you what you want to know. If they don’t tell you, you didn’t need to know it. It certainly didn’t take you long to get to the Nazi reference.

rojo's avatar

Actually, I find that accessing a variety of new sources both domestic and foreign gives a much wider frame of reference. Admittedly it is getting harder to do since they have all been cutting back on their reporting staffs and consolidating their sources but it can be done if you read the bylines closely. Also, just to be clear, I did not say that I didn’t read the source material you referenced, merely that I found it suspect and stated why. No need to get pissy.

bolwerk's avatar

Usually complaints about how big the government is getting means a government is doing things certain people don’t want. A bigger government is, paradoxically, less oppressive than a smaller one. A small government focuses on policing and leaves most other public functions to feudal lords and plutocrats. A large government is more oppressive than no government, but it at least provides a counterweight to the more authoritarian elements of society.

That scale on that spending as a percentage of GDP chart can be misleading, as it’s looking at swings of a few percent (mostly brought on by Republikan splurging).

rojo's avatar

I usually measure “Big Government” from the tip of the glans to the base on the ventral side.

btw, mine is named “Chuy”

bolwerk's avatar

But, for certain agencies, that can be pretty short, @rojo. I’m looking at you, Homeland Security.

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