So, I had a little fuss with my good friend, the ever reasonable and painfully earnest Dr. Brendan Nyhan, @brendannyhan
Brendan tweeted: Big government! "the number of govt. jobs has fallen 2.2 percent" since 6/09. never happened in postwar recovery before (LINK)
I responded: Um...right. The number of gov't jobs NEVER falls, always grows. Why is that inconsistent with "big gov"?
Brendan responded: People think Obama had presided over massive government expansion and it's just not true.
I responded: Check gov as % of GDP! Massive spending increase equals bigger gov, no matter how much u love it
Brendan responded: most of that is denominator shrinking due to recession plus automatic spending in recession
I responded: most but not all. Gov has grown; there may be good reasons...
So, here's the question: NOT is bigger government better, that is a matter of ideological taste. The question is: Has government grown? What measure of "government" should we pick?
Employment: Here is total government employment, from 1960 to the most recent available, June 2011, by five year increments until recently (in millions of workers):
1960 8.7 1965 10.2
1970 12.7 1975 14.8
1980 16.4 1985 16.5
1990 18.4 1995 19.4
2000 20.8 2005 21.8
2008 22.509 2009 22.505
2010 22.730 2011 22.064 (June)
(From Census and BLS data)
I should note that the apparent Obama increase 2009-2010 was at least in part due to 225,000 or more temporary census workers. But then the decline in 2010-2011 has the same cause. Thus, the number of government employees, total is basically flat since 2008. Still these are totals; what about federal government employees?
2009: Total gov workers--22.505 Fed gov workers--2.820 State gov workers--5.330
2011: Total gov workers--22.064 Fed gov workers--2.830 State gov workers--5.091
In other words, federal employees have stayed level, and the states have gotten rid of 250,000 workers. The residual, local governments, must have gotten rid of about 200,000 workers.
Growth of Government? Not really. Government employment has been essentially flat since 2005. In spite of the rhetoric about "an army of new IRS agents," and other fears, government employment grew faster under GW Bush than under Obama, at least so far.
Budget: Has government spending increased? I computed the numbers and summarized them in this table.
Wow. If there was a spending increase, it was the last year of Bush, 2008-9. On the other hand, that was supposed to be one time emergency stuff, TARP and Porkulus.
The table shows that the size of federal spending has increased, controlling for inflation, by fully 25% since 2008. And it is not going back down. The "emergency" is permanent, I guess.
Government Growth? Yes, but less than I expected, and much of it in the 2008-2009 budget year, for which only Bush can be blamed. I guess it depends what your baseline is. If spending should have gone back down, and it hasn't, we can blame Pres. Obama. But the war and the recession... Obama didn't start the fire. Not sure why he would claim credit for throwing gas on it, though.
Scope and Intrusiveness of Regulation: This is mostly perception, I suppose. Not sure that the ranting about big business and the health care rules are really worse than the Patriot Act, Gitmo, and National Security Letters.
Deficit: Fuggettaboutit. Huge increase, much of it under Obama.
So, okay Brendan. Pres. Obama is no worse than GW Bush on making government grow. But Bush was the WORST PRESIDENT in 100 years or more. Is that all you've got for a slogan?
BH Obama: He is STILL not GW Bush.