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Research Desk responds: How do various countries' spending compare?

By Dylan Matthews

jackjudge4000yahoocom asks:

i've been searching for a good chart showing government spending (at all levels) as percentage of gdp for all countries

This is the chart you're looking for (all data courtesy of the OECD, and you can click the graph to enlarge):

oecd_spending_graph.png

I've added in spending to get a fuller picture. Obviously, there are some idiosyncrasies. Norway runs a huge surplus due to its oil wealth, which it invests over the long term. Iceland ran a huge deficit in 2008 to overcome its uniquely awful financial situation. But overall, the trends are as you would expect. France, Sweden, and Denmark spend the most, the U.K. and Germany are in the middle, and the U.S., Canada and Japan are toward the low end of the spectrum.

Importantly, the OECD includes spending on all levels of government, including U.S. states and municipalities, which emphasizes that the differences across countries tend to be more minor than they initially appear. The U.S., for example, spends about as much as a percentage of its GDP as Canada and Spain, and only about 5 percent less than the U.K., all of which have more generous welfare states than the U.S. But because of other countries' greater centralization, this point can be obscured when you only look at U.S. federal spending.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 2, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

You really need to reduce the font size on the Y axis.

Posted by: ostap666 | July 2, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

U.S. spending looks pretty reasonable, compared to most everybody else. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | July 2, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

thanks, guys

consider too our defense dept spends around 4% of gdp, dwarfing pretty much everybody else

Posted by: jackjudge4000yahoocom | July 2, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I really don't know why graphs in blogs here or in the NY Times have to be so bad. Granted, I've got a small monitor, but making a graph that's legible just shouldn't be that hard.

Posted by: blsdaniel | July 2, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, how about the same chart (with a workable font size - didn't whoever made this thing actually look at it?) with "defense" spending removed. Where would the USA be then? Last place?

Posted by: emjayay | July 2, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Dylan, you're an excellent writer and researcher, especially considering your age. I mean that sincerely, having read lots of your stuff. But dude, you need to get better at making CHARTS. That's what Ezra's paying you for.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | July 2, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

It is worth noting that the US pays around 2.5 times as much for the health care it buys compared to the OECD average.

So while the levels of total cost to government are similar, there are BIG differences in how much you BUY with the money you spend.

And at 16% of gdp in the US that is a BIG distortion in purchasing power for other things.

Posted by: grooft | July 2, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Rather than angrily criticize this chart (which, really, hurts my eyes) I will gladly offer to make a nice one for you if you email me a csv or xls with the data.

In fact, consider that a standing offer, Ezra. I love your blog, but man, the excel graphs are just painful.

Posted by: jme3 | July 2, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

It is worth noting that the US pays around 2.5 times as much for the health care it buys compared to the OECD average.

So while the levels of total cost to government are similar, there are BIG differences in how much you BUY with the money you spend.

And at 16% of gdp in the US that is a BIG distortion in purchasing power for other things.

Posted by: grooft | July 2, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I believe in 2010 U.S. government spending at all levels is up to about 44% or 45% of GDP currently, a bit higher than 37% in 2008. Not quite Swedish but levels but comparable to the UK or the Netherlands.

Posted by: justin84 | July 2, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Interesting thing to me is that Japan and Korea, both of which have national health care, have such low spending. Other thing is Japan also has a really nice train and bus system, and has the best-kept road and bridge system I've ever seen. They've also built more road tunnels than the rest of the world combined. I guess Japan also only spends 1% of GDP on Defense, but still, it seems like they get a lot of bang-for-the-buck vs. Europe. And the Koreans must have a larger defense budget, have national health care and good trains, and still spend so little... both have social security. What, is it transfer payments?

Posted by: thorsteinveblenn | July 4, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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