Research Desk researches: How do the U.S., Switzerland and Sweden spend money?
By Dylan Matthews
As a follow-up both to Ezra's post on Jeff Sachs's desire to turn the United States into Switzerland and mine comparing government spending in OECD countries, Reihan Salam responds that he would, in fact, like to see the U.S. government spend more like Switzerland. What, exactly, would that mean?
As Reihan notes, Switzerland is much more strongly federal than the United States, with spending roughly evenly split between the federal, cantonal and municipal levels. If you're only interested in Swiss federal spending, and have decent French, here (PDF) is the most recent budget document; scroll to page 10 for a chart with the budget breakdown. Luckily, the OECD and CIA keep data on total spending, social spending and defense spending that takes those divisions into account. For comparison, I've thrown in data from a representative Nordic country, Sweden, to see how that alternative spending model compares. First, the basics. Here's total government spending, and total government social spending, across the three countries:
While Switzerland spends less than the U.S. or Sweden in total, it spends a bit more than the U.S. on social programs. Here's how that social spending, along with defense spending, plays out in the public sphere:
As you can see, Switzerland spends slightly more than the U.S. on education and pensions, slightly less on health care, and way less on defense, which one would expect given its policy of neutrality and its militia-model military. Sweden, predictably, spends the most in every category except defense. Of course, this does not capture the total scale of pension, health or education spending, especially in the U.S., where the private sector plays a bigger role in providing those services. So here's how those categories look with private spending added in:
Total U.S. health spending dwarfs Switzerland's and Sweden's, which one would expect. Interestingly, the U.S. creeps ahead on education spending with the private sector included, but Switzerland moves even further ahead on pensions, with the U.S. and Sweden roughly matched.
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