Saturday, August 11, 2012

Should we be more like Somalia and less like Sweden?

Many Republicans are casting this election as being about the size of government.  Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (here) states that this is a critical election, and says that Obama is "out of the Western European model."  What he's talking about can be measured, perhaps imperfectly, by a number known as "public consumption," and when I consulted my "2012 Pocket World in Figures" (published by the Economist, and available on Amazon) I confirmed that he is right.  Western European countries do have high values for this number (public spending is 22% of GDP for the Euro area as a whole, 20% in Germany, 25% in France, 28% in Sweden and 30% in Denmark).  Public consumption in the US is 17%, below most European countries (exceptions I found are Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, which have 16%, 15% and 9% respectively).  He is also right that there are significant differences between the Democratic and the Republican parties with respect to views about the value of government services.

So, Mitch McConnell is right about where they have big government, and we can see what it looks like. What does he have in mind for America?  I looked through my "Pocket World in Figures" for countries with small government.  Here in North America, Mexico (12%) looks much better than Canada (22%), but to find true exemplars I had to go overseas, where I found some countries with truly small governments:  Nigeria (6%), Pakistan (8%) and Bangladesh (5%).  Somalia is not listed, but I'm pretty sure it has a very small central government (and "more like Somalia, less like Sweden" makes a catchy slogan, one that Romney might want to consider).

Many people see this year's election as being about the size of government.
I suspect that if the American people really think hard about it they would be willing to pay for the government services that have helped to make America a success.  Perhaps not.  Certainly, I agree that we do have a clear choice.  It is a choice between "government of the people, by the people and for the people" and much less government, perhaps something like what they have in Bangladesh.