Jim, Jim, Jim, not so fast my friend

Writing in The Washington Post, Newsday and Tech Central Station columnist [now there’s a career!] James Pinkerton writes a long piece about growth of government under Bush. What does he manage to do in the process? If you answered “pull out the old Clinton did it” routine,” please pass GO and collect $200:

In the last decade, both parties have discovered that big government can be popular with the middle class — if those big-government bucks are spent on the middle class. Clinton steered the Democratic party away from exotic and fringe concerns; he made the bulk of Americans feel good about getting money from Uncle Sam. Which is to say, Clinton started to transform Washington from the tool of minorities to the tool of the majority. Bush is doing the same thing.

Ah yes, Clinton started all those bad things. Sadly, No! When Clinton was elected, government spending accounted for 22.2% of GDP. By 2000, it was 18.4%, which to our untrained eyes looks like less, but what do we know? (It’s on the way up since, at 19.9% for 2003.) Even if you want to give much of the credit for this to the GOP-controlled Congress, by the end of his second term the government under Clinton was described by one observer thusly:

One of the Clinton administration’s biggest successes was cutting nearly 700,000 federal jobs out of the military and the civil service from 1992 to 1999, said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings.

The “era of big government” may not have ended during the Clinton years, but the size of government was greatly reduced, Sawhill said.

Did Clinton make you “feel good” about getting stuff from the government dear readers? Just like he did by signing welfare reform into law, stuff like that? Right, something like that.


Comments: 4


Ah, the magic is back. 😉


While I don’t want to sound like I’m defending Bush, the number of government employees is hardly a good measure of the size of government. Does replacing government employees with contractor employees really make the government smaller?


I also don’t want to defend Bush, but I’d like to note that govt spending as % of GDP is not a good measure of what government is doing or trying to do — since they can affect only the numerator of the expression. Spending as % of GDP is good as a long-term indicator, but I think pretty useless in year-to-year comparisons where the GDP is changing, sometimes by a lot.


Fair enough on both counts Keith and GMF. On government spending as a percentage of GDP, we would note that this wasn’t simply a one or two-year move, but a steady 8-year decline. Many government activities would not be covered here (say regulations and so on,) but Pinkerton is writing on people feeling good about getting stuff from government. That, it seems, has to involve some level of spending.

As for federal employees and the role of contractors, we don’t know how much that was at play here, though we suspect it did play a role. The question is how much, and (again) whether that picture fits with Pinkerton’s description.


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