Presidential Spending

No source is more “infallible” than The Daily Beast and Andrew Sullivan’s “biased and balanced” coverage, but here it is:

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  • Kyle J

    The GOP’s trick with this is just to repudiate the last GOP president as not being a “real conservative” (Bush II) or blame it on Congress (Reagan).

  • nemo

    Can someone help explain what the phrase “Real per Capita Government Spending” means? I know what annualized growth means and I know what per capita means. But what does “real government spending” mean?

  • Jon

    Except that this graph charts growth in spending, meaning total spending per capita just keeps growing. No conservative will say that baby bush didn’t spend a lot (he did order two wars, which Obama continued). Obama took that huge number and grew it. The problem is that the total per capital spending, on a graph, skyrockets exponentially, not that a specific president grew more than the last.

    A truer graph would show a giant exponential curve in which every president spends more than the last because everyone is afraid to cut any spending to buy votes. We need a president and congress who will make it to the negative side of this graph.

  • Nemo #2

    “Real” means adjusted for inflation.

  • DanO

    Jon @3, “baby bush.” Why do you refer to him in such a derogatory manner? Do you think it helps make your point or is this how you always refer to one you do not like?

  • MattR

    Don’t always agree with Sullivan, but love the way he moves a conversation forward!

    This graph shows the problem with the current conversation on spending… no one (democratic or republican) really denies that the way we’re headed is unsustainable. But over the last thirty years, conservatives have talked a big game, but once in office spent more than the previous administration.

    Everyone says they want to cut ‘government spending,’ but the biggest items in the budget are the military industrial complex, and so called ‘entitlements,’ which include social security… and who’s going to really touch those?

  • Kyle J


    Some level of real spending growth is sustainable given that GDP generally outpaces inflation. As the nation’s economy grows, it’s going to choose to spend more on certain government services–particularly with an aging population.

    The other half of the equation is, of course, revenue growth/decline. And we’ve seen plenty of “vote buying” on that side, too.

    And, yes, if you’re going to blame the president for fiscal profligacy, it’s mainly the result of continuing Bush administration policies. But that’s not something you hear conservatives saying much.

  • DRT

    Jon, wrong. A truer graph would show the spending on an exponetial curve to show the true increases and decreases. You have it exactly backwards.

    Go to any financial site or financial analysis help system and all changes in prices and spending will be offered in a non-linear fashion.

  • DRT

    That was a bit terse.

    Jon, the most common practice when the base is changing and the growth is changing is to show it on some sort of a log plot. The reason is that in any given period, it will always look like things are getting worse when in terms of growth rate they may be getting better.

    Having said that, yes, the chart still does show that government spending continues to increase per person. Although I sympathize with the right and agree that it would be nice to see spending go down, it does not mean as much to the national debt as you may think. Remember, under Clinton’s time we ran a surplus.

    Certainly the Reagan and Bush I and II years would make it more difficult to do that, but the spending shown under Obama is within reason. And since the right wing is screaming that it is out of control, it seems that the claim may be a bit more than exaggerated.

    I, for one, believe that we are in a natural down cycle due to the nature of the demographics. To be blunt, until the baby boomers start to die off we are going to have some significant problems that are not going to be solved by spending cuts, though they may be needed by some extent.

    All the world is suffering the fate of the baby boom, and its legacy due to WWII. That’s just the way it is.

  • Mark Brown

    Three misleading points.
    1) Spending bills originate in the house.
    2) Obama doesn’t have the full effect of Obamacare in spending yet and he has the advantage of at least one war winding down (thank the Lord.)
    3) The two obvious low points in the graph are the two points where we had blessedly divided government. A Dem president and a GOP house who did not agree, so spending stalled. Flip-flop it and the GOP president either agrees to more spending or suffers the howls of “draconian cuts” and “wants to kill grandma”.

    Net, except for that fact that we are heading to a financial cliff, so we need to fix programs, I’m all for Dem president, GOP house and absolute gridlock.

  • So, what would the graph look like if the dollar’s value hadn’t plunged? In other words, it’s the “adjusted for inflation” qualifier that makes the chart. If dollars were still valuable, the numbers spent the last several years would paint a *very* different chart, and we should be very concerned that an increase in the national debt of TRILLIONS didn’t bump the chart because the devaluated dollar absorbed the unsustainable hit, and now our salaries, homes, investments, contracts, etc., etc. are now worth far, far less than they were several years ago.

    That elephant is rarely content to sit in the corner for long.

  • James, my reading of the graph would say that the value of the dollar doesn’t matter to this graph. This is in comparison to the dollar, not against international currency.