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The Party of Big Government

I’ve often wondered why nobody calls out the Republican party for claiming to be the party of small government. It isn’t like there isn’t plenty of data to refute this claim. We have long known that the federal deficit has increased dramatically more under Republican presidents than Democratic ones, but Republicans could just claim that they increased the deficit through tax cuts, not by spending.

But that would be a lie. A more interesting measure of the size of government would be the size of the federal workforce (not including military personnel) — data that is easily available online.

So the next time a Republican candidate claims to be a Reagan conservative, just remember that not only did Reagan increase the deficit by more than 200 billion dollars and raise taxes multiple times, he also increased the federal workforce by 238,000 employees (8.3%).

The latest data we have is for the end of 2010, but the total number of federal employees is still smaller than it was when Reagan took office 30 years ago, even though the US population has grown more than 45% during that time.

Bottom line — under the last three Democratic presidents (Carter, Clinton, Obama), the federal workforce was reduced by 304,000 employees; while under the last three Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush I, Bush II) the federal workforce was increased by 261,000 employees.

Which one is the party of small government?



  1. Max wrote:

    Besides direct government employees, you need to count the people employed by private business who supply goods and services to the government, e.g. military suppliers.

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    I’d love to see that (but I suspect it would just make the case stronger). Are you volunteering to put those numbers together?

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Max wrote:

    Heh, no! But another approach would be to take the budget and subtract transfer payments (Social Security, medicare, interest on the debt, etc). This measure of “size” is unaffected by how much employment is direct vs indirect.

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  4. Rusty Patella wrote:

    I’d also be interested in knowing the size of the federal budget as a measure of “bigness”. The number of federal employees (while I completely agree in principal) is skewed due to the tremendous number of “contractors” the government employs. One estimate I heard (from NPR a while back) was two contractors for every employee in some departments. While that’s in no way hard evidence ( 🙂 ), I’d like to know whether the contractor number sways the case towards or away from democrats by a wide margin…

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink