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How is America’s distaste for government spending working out for us?

Helsinki, Finland
REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Finland tops the list of nations in terms of the percentage of their GDP that is used for government programs.

Would it be a colossal overstatement (I don’t think so) to say that in U.S. political culture there is a deep and long-running bias against government spending in general?

Would it be crazy or rude to think that this bias favors rich people, who would presumably pay more than their per capita share of higher taxes, and hurts the poor who pay less in taxes and benefit more? (I don’t think so.)

Yes, of course, the USA spends a gazillion or two more on military (please, we call it “defense,” since we never go on offense, except most of the time) spending than anyone else. But, by the standards of the other wealthy countries of the world, we spend less per capita of government dollars on most of the non-defense/offense things that contribute to what might be called the quality of life of its citizens.

What should be subsidized by tax dollars and what should be privatized is a constant issue, and the line has long moved in the direction of more government spending, compared to the past — but not in the U.S. when compared to other nations in the past or in the present. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all wonderful 20th-century additions to the safety net, compared to doing nothing, although they can always be criticized as forms of “socialism.” But, either way, those programs are small compared to what other prosperous nations do to provide basic health care and income to the poor and the elderly.

In some sense, this is what a lot of our politics is about. In general — but especially on the political right — the U.S. has viewed public spending as a sort of last resort/necessary evil or, perhaps, unnecessary evil and a fundamental assault on freedom. Freedom!

Those who argue for programs to help more people who can’t afford to help themselves to things like health care, welfare and education are always in danger of being viewed as, well, commies or socialists or bleeding-heart liberals or something else that goes against proper Americanness.

So how’s that working out for us? Well, we don’t live as long, (31st among world nations in life expectancy, just behind Cyprus, Chile, and Costa Rica); our kids don’t do as well in school (38th in average math scores, just behind Slovakia); and we proudly rank No. 1 among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in the highest portion of our population living in poverty.  

I bring up the OECD, which is, not officially but sort of, a club of the world’s most developed nations, because my starting point for this column was to use data from that organization’s membership list to provide an overview of whether societies that spend more collectively, through government taxing and spending at all levels, are doing better or worse in quality of life for their citizens.

So I looked up the OECD ranking of total per capita government spending, and wanted to ask whether you would like the overall quality of life in your country to be in the club of the top third or the bottom third.

Here, in graphic form, are the OECD member nations ranked according to the portion of their GDP that goes to general government spending, and bear in mind that the U.S. gets credit in that category for military spending, where it has the highest of any of the OECD members, not just in absolute dollars but on a per capita basis. The report is from 2017, but the numbers are from 2015.

While the OECD is sort of a club of relatively wealthy first-world nations, that oversimplifies it. The U.S. and NATO members are in there, but so is Lithuania. Its membership has been expanding, even since the time of this report.

My basic point is that most of the countries I (how about you?) wouldn’t mind living in if I had to emigrate are near the top the list in terms of the percentage of their GDP that is used for government programs. Here’s the top 10, ranked in order of per capita general government spending:

  1. Finland
  2. France
  3. Denmark
  4. Belgium
  5. Greece
  6. Austria
  7. Italy
  8. Hungary
  9. Sweden
  10. Norway

And here, also in descending order, are the 10 OECD nations that spent the least:

  1. USA
  2. Australia
  3. Lithuania
  4. Russia !!!
  5. Switzerland
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Korea
  8. Colombia
  9. Ireland
  10. Chile

The OECD specifies: General government spending consists of central, state and local governments, and social security funds. That makes the comparisons more accurate across nations, like ours, divided into states, and those not, and that distribute various jobs different across local, state and national government.

I’m not saying that Australia or Switzerland are hellholes. I’m sure the story is more complicated. I’m not in favor of socializing everything. I am in favor of taxing rich people (including me) more to improve the lives of those who make less.

The OECD currently consists of 36 member nations, but has been adding members recently. I believe the figures above reflect 33 members. The membership includes all three nations of North America, most or all of Western Europe and Scandinavia, and the three former Soviet Baltic Republics, the Czech and Slovak Republics, plus Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Israel, Turkey and South Korea. Any of those countries that are not on the two lists above fall in the middle, in government spending per capita.

Russia, which appears on one of the lists above, is not an OECD member, but the organization sometimes includes data on non-members for various informational purposes. Costa Rica, which also appears, is not yet a full but its membership is in process.

The U.S. also ranks 6th from the bottom in government revenue per capita.

Comments (67)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/20/2019 - 08:49 am.

    Eric, Eric, Eric…

    Come on now.

    Never forget that we’re EXCEPTIONAL!

    And being EXCEPTIONAL precludes us from any comparison to anything: It’s an apple and oranges universe out there.

    Which is the very convenient rational that is used by those that see our spending as crazy and out of control.

    Now these same folks do like the power of comparison when they shop for their new Toyota or BMW, pick a school for their kids, book a vacation, buy a new pair of shoes: In all these they agree spending more gets better results. But government? Oh no, spending less gets more and don’t try to fuzz things up with facts like actual comparisons.

    That’s apples and oranges, don’t you know….

    • Submitted by Ole Johnson on 06/20/2019 - 03:34 pm.

      Well we are EXCEPTIONALLY broke. No nation in history has ever been so broke as ours.

      But sure. Let’s spend more.

      • Submitted by richard owens on 06/20/2019 - 04:31 pm.

        We are not “broke”. In fact we can never go broke as long as our debt is sold in the currency we control.

        That said, there is such a thing as wise spending and foolish spending.

        Wise spending includes health education and welfare that makes our country stronger from the inside out. Paying our own bills, especially those owed to American citizens. Maintaining our assets and upgrading when necessary. Diplomacy. Humanitarian assistance.

        Foolish spending includes a bloated Pentagon that can’t stand up to a single audit. Stimulus spending with tax cuts when the economy is running well, and trying to build concentration camps in front of a mass migration. War.

        I apologize, Ole, if you were “just kidding” about America’s balance sheet.

        We are not broke. It is our poor who don’t have any “economic demand”.

        • Submitted by Ole Johnson on 06/21/2019 - 08:28 am.

          We can’t be broke, we have plenty of checks left!

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/21/2019 - 02:00 pm.

            And those checks can’t bounce as long as they’re backed by the u.S.Treasury.
            That’s the whole basis for the international monetary system.
            Most of our debt is internal — owed by individuals or government agencies to the Treasury. So individuals within the system can go broke — the system itself can’t. It just reallocates resources.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/20/2019 - 09:23 pm.

        Ole, not to worry, these folks are more spending broke than us:

        F.S. Micronesia
        Solomon Islands
        Bosnia and Herzegovina
        São Tomé and Príncipe
        United Kingdom
        New Zealand
        Czech Republic

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/21/2019 - 08:29 am.

        Dude, the US isn’t even close to broke, we have the largest economy on the planet by many many factors. If Republicans and “conservatives” want to complain about the debts and deficits fine, but we’re not broke, we could pay those debts off like we did after WWII… thing is you need raise taxes to do it and Republicans keeps selling the magical fantasy that we can pay everything off without paying anything off.

    • Submitted by kaimay terry on 06/21/2019 - 08:27 am.

      Eric has called out something that has been gnawing at me for a long time. Let me expand his argument on government spending. Why do so many ( presidential hopefuls, media, general public ) stay mum on matters such as our enormous increase in military spending by the Pentagon to $750 billion for 2020? The nonprofit Friends Committee on National Legislation rang the alarm, “this is two billion a day budget for warfare” when we are starving for funding to build our HUMAN CAPITAL

      Yes, since our withdrawal from international commitments on nuclear arms, we are diverting 1.7 trillion to “rebuild” our nuclear arsenals to a new class of “low grade” nuclear missiles. The April issue of the The Nation featured ” Making Nuclear Weapons Menacing Again” argued that it is recklessly foolish for planners to believe that these low yield nuclear weapons are “safer” for humankind.

      Our current POTUS along with a few “advisers” have changed the world to a more hostile, less safe ( including environment degradation) and less prosperous one ( we have weaponized trade) We are desperately searching for a leader or leaders who will be fearless in helping the general public to understand what is at stake for ourselves and the rest of the world now and in the years to come.

      We must not be swayed by fear mongers, acquiesced to bullying behavior that’s unbecoming of us as Americans. We must believe in ourselves and our potentials.
      Kaimay Y Terry, Wayzata

  2. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/20/2019 - 09:10 am.

    “Well, we don’t live as long, (31st among world nations in life expectancy, just behind Cyprus, Chile, and Costa Rica)”

    Drug abuse and morbid obesity have a lot to do with our life expectancy deficiencies. No one is dropping dead of starvation or the Plague in the US.

    “our kids don’t do as well in school (38th in average math scores, just behind Slovakia)”

    When parents decide to pressure school boards to make academics prioritize academics ahead of political indoctrination, that will change. The destruction of our public school system is a national disgrace, and lies wholly at the feet of the NEA and the Democrat party.

    “we proudly rank No. 1 among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in the highest portion of our population living in poverty”

    Yes, where owning cell phones, flat screen TV’s, cable service and cars is a component of poverty…

    And once again; Finland…

    Finland has a culturally homogeneous population of 5.5 million. We have twice as many illegal immigrants in the US; 75% of whom receive some form of public subsidy. Finland also has large oil reserves; Neste Oil exports 17.5 billion euros worth every year.

    • Submitted by Scott Walters on 06/20/2019 - 05:59 pm.

      Wow…where to even begin.
      Drug abuse and morbid obesity…maybe those happen because of a dramatic lack of spending on social issues and education. Maybe.
      Schools…please, do try harder. That absurdity isn’t even worth a response.
      Don’t pretend to understand the lives of poor people. It’s complicated. Many don’t have reliable cars, or cable TV, and certainly not the latest high-tech cell phone. But, cell phones are a much better deal than a land line, so I’d hope poor people have them. They should. And if they can’t afford one, it should be provided to them so they have the ability to call 911 if needed.
      Finland…really? Finland’s lack of diversity is their strength, and they have oil. Wow. Except, we have lots more oil, and we have the added strength of a massive immigrant population, which creates jobs like crazy, grows our economy faster than it would ever grow without them, and…most importantly…has prevented us from needing to eat reindeer! Instead, we get to eat tacos, haggis, ravioli, schnitzel, pad thai, chow mein, sushi, and best of all, cuy (that’s Peruvian for yummy, yummy Guinea Pig).
      If only we didn’t have to have Republicans and Conservatives here…then in addition to all that good food, we could also have nice things in this country…like more light rail trains, high speed inter-city rail, modern airports, and clean air and water. We could also start to catch up to the modern world in addressing global climate change, so we don’t get to grow old knowing our children and grandchildren will get to watch the collapse of modern civilization, because that won’t be good.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/21/2019 - 12:53 pm.

        … certainly not the latest high-tech cell phone.

        Oh my; that’s a travesty. I never realized how barbaric we treat wards of the state in America.

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/24/2019 - 09:42 am.

          I know someone (a senior woman) who has one of what right-wingers snidely call an “Obamaphone.”

          It’s the modern version of a program instituted by (get this) Ronald Reagan, on the grounds that a person needs a phone to be a full member of society.

          The cell phones that people receive under this program are older models with very limited minutes. In fact, the woman I know has told people not to phone her unless it’s urgent, because she has so few minutes of talk allotted each month.

          Contrary to what right-wingers would like to believe, recipients of this program do not receive iPhone XRs or Samsung Galaxy S10s with unlimited minutes, although I’m sure they would like that to be true in their fevered fantasies of “welfare cheats” living in the lap of luxury.

          By the way, cell phones are extremely common among people in Third World countries who may not have running water or indoor plumbing but do have access to electric power.

          • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 06/25/2019 - 07:22 am.

            Yes, many Third World countries skipped the “landline” era entirely and now rely on cellphones for a wide variety of uses. They are relatively cheap, and the infrastructure costs much less than a landline network. And as for those people in our country – well, how can you have a “home phone” if you don’t have a relatively permanent home? And how can you communicate with employers? Most jobs now require online applications. So this idea of a cellphone being a luxury – it’s a necessity.

            • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/26/2019 - 10:06 pm.

              And yet, I survive without one. In the USA. With a job, a house, a truck, a family. Why yes, I disagree with your statement and prove it false every single day.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 06/20/2019 - 09:11 pm.

      Our schools do not indoctrinate kids in anyway you mention. Schools actually teach conformity and stupidity for the most part, and there are clear institutional reasons for that. You would be surprised at the lack of political agendas the vast majority of teachers have. (I’ve seen / heard lots of teachers talk about their Christian faith – why aren’t you complaining about that – than any liberal agenda). Many, if not all, want to teach students the curriculum, develop skills necessary for the future, and be a part of close knit community which helps each other out, and build a lasting community for the future. If that isn’t the definition of conservatism, I don’t know what is.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/21/2019 - 01:00 pm.

        Although my own kids attended private schools, I was very involved with the SPPS for 10 years. I tutored, graded papers, served on several committees. I’m well aware of the political indoctrination that occurs in the public schools. It’s one reason I would never send my kids there.

        I’m also aware of the fact that the lions share of excess levy referendums get absorbed during negotiations with the teachers union.

        Surely you’re not going to try and tell us your budget was reduced to a pittance because the schools funding was cut, because that has never happened: never.

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/22/2019 - 09:42 am.

          By “political indoctrination” do you mean ideas that disagree with Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, the AM radio talk shows, and right-wing websites?

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/22/2019 - 04:59 pm.

            Human biology, science, history have all been twisted to suit the leftist agenda. Metrics have been tainted to hide the failure from parents.

            There is a reason we’re falling behind China.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/23/2019 - 08:17 pm.

              Something is twisted, but it’s not American public education.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/24/2019 - 08:21 am.

              The only people who are to “twist” science to their liking and ideology are those who keep attack public schools. Anyone who makes the claim that science is “liberal” is a scientific illiterate… and these people are sitting school boards all over the country.

              And again, I don’t why we keep having to explain how our government works to libertarians and Republicans, but school levies have to spell out exactly what they want the money for, and what they’re going to spend on. If they’re going to put a majority of the money into teacher’s salaries, they have to tell you that. If you think the money always ends up going into teachers salaries regardless, you’re simply not reading the levy, and your not paying attention to your public schools.

              • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 06/25/2019 - 09:35 am.

                I don’t why we keep having to explain that money is fungible. When districts blow their budget during contract negotiations, they organize an excess levy referendum to make up the difference.

                In SP, that happens every 2 years, like clockwork. These are verifiable facts.

                • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/25/2019 - 11:57 am.

                  “I don’t why we keep having to explain that money is fungible. ”

                  Again, public schools have budgets that are available for public inspection. Sure you could take a dollar that’s supposed to be spent on special ed, and put it somewhere else, but that would be fraud, and when public school officials do something like that, they end up without a job and/or in jail.

                  The suggestion that school boards float levies for specific projects and costs and then transfer THAT money to teacher’s salaries is just typical anti-labor conspiracy theory pretending to be fiscal responsibility.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/21/2019 - 09:55 am.

      “When parents decide to pressure school boards to make academics prioritize academics ahead of political indoctrination, that will change. The destruction of our public school system is a national disgrace, and lies wholly at the feet of the NEA and the Democrat party.”

      Few entities in our public sphere are more locally controlled than our schools. Parents are essentially the school board: elected by the community, usually without any political endorsement. They run on what they believe and we pick the agenda / course we want our local schools to follow through these locally elected officials.

      Conservatives used to like driving things down to the smallest unit of government. That was a “principle”. Of course when you get down to that smallest unit and you don’t get the answer you want you can abide by your principles or take the route of expedient accommodation and just start driving it back up the other way: Taking concealed carry authority from the local sheriff and giving it to state government is a great example of “flexible” conservative principles.

      I spent a few years as a teacher in a JR/SR high school classroom. To imply that I and my colleagues suffered from some kind of mind control from the NEA is beyond ridiculous. The people elected the school board, the school board selected school administrators and those administrators hired the teachers. Tell me a better example of “smallest unit of government” controlling its’ own destiny.

      If you want to assess blame, look at the “less is more” attitude towards school funding. I taught in a manufacturing technology program. I had a budget of about $17,000 per year. 20 Years later it was $1,000. That did not make things better, it made things go away. Eric is right on the numbers and the comparisons. I also get that that those on the right find this:

      “An Inconvenient Truth”

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2019 - 09:25 am.

    As you point out, this does not include funds expended on military boondoggle such as the F-35. Some Pentagon spending is in fact off budget and not accounted for!

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/22/2019 - 09:43 am.

      I have occasionally asked people who gripe about spending on “welfare” to figure out how many *seconds*, yes *seconds*, of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that their annual income tax bill paid for.

  4. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 06/20/2019 - 10:05 am.

    I think income taxes were invented to give people a perpetual grievance to complain about while acting as if income taxes were set in stone by God/the Big Bang.

    If Econ 101 says you tax what you want to limit or do away with, then why are we not taxing industrial pollution? How about automation taking jobs from people? What about obscene wealth/ wealth consolidation? Or are we trying to limit and do away with most people’s sense of autonomy and sovereignty, maybe their sense of empowerment? Are we trying to limit or do away with employment? How is that working out for us, with so many now marginally employed working part time or many jobs part time?

    Maybe we wouldn’t need so many subsidies if we paid people an actual living wage and then let them keep their money? Maybe if we didn’t have such twisted, backwards priorities when someone taking care of the elderly or autistic makes $10/hr while the elite 5% of fleecing bank employees get bonuses greater than the yearly income for elder/autistic care? Increasingly the only people optimistic about this economy are working admin to exec in big bank/corp/edu.

    America is increasingly like a mining camp, people the substrate and our production the gold. Working people are increasingly plundered, along with the earth generally, ever greater wealth consolidation leading to ever greater suicides and drug addiction, ever greater despair, ever greater pollution, ever greater pressure on poor people’s “entitlements” by an increasingly entitled elite.

    The times call for creative rethinking. Otherwise these arguments about spending are the same tired arguments I’ve been hearing for 40 years, 40 years of downward pressure on wages and benefits for most people.

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 06/25/2019 - 07:25 am.

      Not to mention tax and financial policies which have favored the rich for decades now. It’s easy to make more money if you have it, but harder to accumulate it in the first place.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/20/2019 - 11:43 am.

    Russia’s rank is a bit of a surprise, at least initially. Then I tried to visualize Mr. Putin as a man of Trumpian generosity and it all came into autocratic focus…

    As Mr. Blaise implies, the same folks who will lecture us on the theme of “You get what you pay for” in the private sector, will insist just as vehemently that getting what you pay for is a principle that’s inoperative in the public sector. Yes, “freedom” is an oft-used term, especially – though not exclusively – on the political right, but it’s usually invoked by people for whom having multiple choices in life about all sorts of things that cost money is a given.

    And we should keep in mind that, to someone accustomed to privilege, any move toward equity can be, and often is, regarded as oppression.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/21/2019 - 10:37 am.

      Russia’s ranking makes sense to me. They are still authoritarian, but not Communist in any sense of the word.

      A friend of mine went to Russia several times as a consultant on case management for AIDS patients. She reported a bare bones medical system with critical supplies diverted to the black market.

      Others have reported mind-boggling levels of corruption, since after the abrupt switch to capitalism, the only people who knew how to run a business in a country that had been Communist for seventy years were the Russian Mafia.

      For all practical purposes, the social safety net no longer exists there. But the repressive state security system is intact under another name.

  6. Submitted by Chris Mau on 06/20/2019 - 12:35 pm.

    It’s not so much the spending we have trouble with, it’s the taxing that seems to be the problem 😉

    I’d like to know how much more money we could dedicate to quality-of-life programs if we were tied for the highest per capita spending on military. What if we had average per capita military spending?

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/20/2019 - 12:51 pm.

    Actually if you dig into polls and surveys over the decades, American’s have always endorsed a lot of public spending, it’s out political Parties (both of them) that have resisted “public” spending while promoting corporate welfare and military spending.

    It’s a little weird because if you ask Americans if they believe in the idea of “big government” you get more or less support over the years, but that’s because no one actually knows what THAT means, just like no one ever really tells us what a “small” government looks like, aside from Somalia. However, if you step back and talk about actual public programs, a majority of Americans have always voiced support for more spending on most of them. There’s always some razzle dazzle when it comes to tax cuts, but whenever you dig into it you find that Americans don’t actually mind paying taxes unless the money isn’t going where they thought it was going, or if they don’t like where it’s going.

    It’s important to remember that “small guvmint” idea was actually embraced by both major political Parties, albeit in somewhat different fashions. Jimmy Carter still brags about all of his deregulating, and Clinton oversaw the largest privatization of government services in US history. Economic and public policy mentalities among the ruling elite were neoliberal or conservative, there was no “liberal” thinking to any serious extent among our political class for decades.

    And no, obviously neoliberalism hasn’t served our country well over-all. It’s done well for the oligarchy and margnially affluent, but we’ve been in a downward spiral over-all for decades.

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/21/2019 - 10:52 am.

      Paul, I think your comment that most Americans don’t mind paying taxes is not true. I think as a nation we complain more about taxes than any other single issue. Maybe if we had more services provided that would not be the case. I also think if we had the oil reserves that the Scandinavian countries had we would be able to offer more services to residents. My relatives have lived in Norway and Sweden. Both of those countries are dialing back the tax burden placed on their citizens. Denmark is one of the highest taxing nations on earth, I spent time there last spring. The locals complained mightily about it.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/22/2019 - 08:12 am.


        Some people complain about taxes a lot, as if the simple act of paying taxes makes the victims of government oppression. But that’s not most American’s by a long shot. It’s like abortion, very few American’s think that the fact that someone else is getting abortions is a huge problem, something like 5% of the population. In rankings the “problem” of abortion rarely makes onto the list of the top 50 issues American’s list. Yet we hear a LOT about abortion. I’m referring to actual polls and research that have conducted over the decades, not Republican campaigns or libertarian rants.

        Anyone can research this for themselves. Taxes almost never rank high on American lists of concerns. Right now for instance tax reduction isn’t a priority for either Democrats or Republicans, and a majority of American’s want to see increases in federal spending on education, veteran’s benefits, transportation and infrastructure, Medicare, and environmental protection.

  8. Submitted by mary mcleod on 06/20/2019 - 01:17 pm.

    I think things went south when Grover Norquist took over the right. It meant all of the moderate Republicans resigned or were defeated, and it has been more or less gridlock ever since. I wonder, where did we rank on these scales before he came on the scene?

  9. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/20/2019 - 01:42 pm.

    The United States is has the third largest population in the world, trailing just China and India.
    We rank at the top in housing, much above average in per capita income, health, jobs and education, personal security and environmental quality, and civic engagement. 70% of people 15-64 have a paid job v 68% of other OCED countries. The US has more immigrants than any other country in the world. 4X as many as Germany.
    In India, 30% of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. 56% do not make enough money to meet their basic needs. 88 million people in China live on less than $1.90 a day.
    So, bash the US if you want to. I, and most everyone looking to immigrate would rather be here than anywhere else in the world.
    I think it’s rather disingenuous to compare the US to a bunch of other small countries. Did it ever occur to you that one of the reasons we have people living in poverty is because we let poor people immigrate? Didn’t think so. Check those pesky little facts first. Thank you

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 06/20/2019 - 09:18 pm.

      This is simply wrong, it’s beneath anyone to even respond further to this.

      • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/21/2019 - 10:33 am.

        David, these are facts taken from position papers in 2017. I do not voice my opinion, I let the facts speak for themselves

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/21/2019 - 10:51 am.

      If you think that other OECD countries don’t have immigrants from poor countries, then your “facts” are seriously out of date. If you have ever been to Europe, it must have been before the 1960s, because even in 1967, when I first went there as a teenager with my family, the presence of Asian and African immigrants was obvious, especially in the former colonial powers of Britain and France. Germans may complain about their Turkish population, but they actually invited them in as cheap labor.

      Even Japan has immigrants, both legal (few) and illegal (many) from China, Southeast Asia, and even Brazil. Even Iceland has immigrants, a fact that boggled my mind when I saw restaurants run by Indian and Chinese people in Reykjavik and learned that the bus driver on one of the tours was from Latvia. The only country that even comes close to being homogeneous today is North Korea. All the rest, even Saudi Arabia, have indigenous minority groups or foreign “guest workers” or permanent immigrants.

      Besides, our immigrants have always been from “poor countries.” Back in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe, and the Scandinavian countries were almost all impoverished peasants–and bigots despised them as much as today’s bigots despise Latino and African immigrants and made up the same kinds of scare stories about them “taking over.”

    • Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 06/25/2019 - 07:31 am.

      “The US has more immigrants than any other country in the world. 4X as many as Germany.” Here’s a fact – Germany’s population in 2018 was 83 million; the US had an estimated 327 million people in 2018. Let’s do a little math – what do you know? 327 divided by 83 is – 3.99. Looks pretty close to 4 to me.

  10. Submitted by Joe Bontems on 06/20/2019 - 01:58 pm.

    Just what then is the American Project about? If the nation produces citizens with a shorter lifespan, violence levels unheard of in other developed nations not at war, growing disparity of living standards, rampant drug abuse, a divided, angry populace, serious racial/cultural conflict, along with such a remarkable level of ignorance.

    Some might say it’s about FREEDOM. But other countries experience greater economic freedom, freedom of the press, from hunger and violence.

    Perhaps in the end, the uniqueness of the USA was in the narrative created about anything being possible. This is the triumph of image over substance, eg. of a creature in the White House promising to make America Great Again, while behind the scene, enriching himself and his ilk; the ultimate triumph of the individual! Yes, the nation of me-myself -and-I, distilled to its lowest common denominator.

  11. Submitted by joe smith on 06/20/2019 - 02:18 pm.

    We’ve spent over 20 Trillion on the war on poverty, how’s that going? How in the world is the Government going to help with teaching our children? Education has been on the decline since DC elites took it over. The thought that the Government will take care of every need for everyone is simply a pipe dream.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/20/2019 - 07:16 pm.

      Exaggerate much?
      According to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, since the Johnson Administration, almost $15 trillion has been spent on welfare, with poverty rates being about the same as during the Johnson Administration.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/24/2019 - 08:15 am.

      And we’ve been cutting those anti-poverty budgets since Reagan got elected, funny how the fewer resources you devote to reducing poverty, the more durable poverty is.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/24/2019 - 09:32 am.

        And while the Johnson-era poverty programs were in full swing, poverty actually did go down.

        The War on Poverty was fine with the corporate types as long as it looked like charity. Nixon’s food stamp program? No problem. Foster Grandparents, with seniors volunteering in daycare centers? No problem.

        However, when VISTA workers told Appalachian farmers that the coal companies couldn’t seize their land without compensation or told residents of substandard housing that landlords were legally required to provide safe living conditions, among other things, and Legal Aid started organizing class action lawsuits, the greedy segment of the business community felt threatened and influenced their legislators to dismantle the more activist facets of the War on Poverty.

        One of the many stupid things Ronald Reagan said (and a certain type of right-winger loves to quote every disdainful remark that Reagan and Margaret Thatcher said) was “We declared war on poverty, and poverty won.”

        No, poverty didn’t win. People of Reagan’s ilk surrendered.

  12. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/20/2019 - 02:27 pm.

    The issue of spending seems to inevitably trigger the issue of the deficit which everyone seems to believe is a problem without really understanding why. I’m not sure I do. But if you look up “who owns the US government debt”, it appears most of it is “owned” by us, which is to say, by Social Security and Medicare and the US Government itself. “Only” 30% of the US Government debt is held by foreigners or foreign governments.

    One could say that the deficits are created by these “government programs” which some people are happy to label (or impugn) as “entitlements”, are the beneficiaries of these programs. The right wing views these beneficiaries as a bunch of freeloaders clamoring for “free stuff.” But it’s usually overlooked that these programs not only improve the lives of people, they improve all of our lives by increasing aggregate demand and purchasing power to help create markets for output of businesses, which would otherwise be consigned to chronic overcapacity, perpetual recession, or depression. Certainly, this is also an additional justification for military (or defense) spending.

    The right wing’s ongoing bias on these programs helps deflect their own responsibility for creating the deficit by tax cuts starting with the current occupant’s tax cut, then back to Bush II and even back to Reagan. The tax cuts as sold were supposed to “unleash” enterprise among the rich and increase tax revenues in a sort of reverse Keynesian Rube Goldbergish way. This has never worked but the failure of these tax cuts to produce anything but deficits has not prevented the right from continuing to clamor for less spending (except from military spending, where it’s never enough) and even more tax cuts. (Interestingly, the current occupant just awarded the Medal of Freedom to Arthur Laffer, the author of the aptly named “voodoo economics” and the “Laffer Curve.”)

    Anyone who has traveled to any of the countries on the top 10 OECD list has probably wondered why the standard of living in these countries and the benefits generally enjoyed by the populace at large cannot be “afforded” in what used to be thought of as the richest country on earth. We know now that the US is the “richest country on earth” only because it has the largest number of rich people. Life in the US in my lifetime I’ve come to see as a paradox of poverty and squalor amidst plenty. The wealth held by a tiny elite cannot even be used or enjoyed by them. As long as the right continues to bemuse voters who believe unquestioningly in the principle that “them that gots, are entitled to it and more” even at the expense of their own well being and that of their children and grandchildren, we will continue to drift deeper and aimlessly into the paradox of poverty amidst plenty.

  13. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/20/2019 - 02:27 pm.

    BTW, check out the population of these countries. Scandinavia? Finland is 5.5M. France is 67M. So you can’t compare us to anyone. Norway has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, due to it’s oil reserves.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 06/20/2019 - 04:38 pm.

      Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is sort of like to our Social Security Trust Fund. One difference is that it is funded by state income from the country’s natural resources (North Sea petroleum leases, etc.), rather than from payroll taxes. Another difference is that it is invested in global stock markets, rather that in US Government Treasury debt instruments.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/21/2019 - 12:08 am.

      Ms. Larey,

      Keep making these population based comparisons as you’ve locked onto some brilliant economic principle… you have not. Economies are proportionate to population, the metrics we’re looking at here are per capita. The larger population in the US actually gives it many advantages, more workers, more spending, more consumption, larger market. We have the largest economy on the planet, the next largest is Japan. The countries we’re comparing have smaller economies, and less money per capita, and they still out-perform the US on these measure. It’s not all about population. All those immigrants you’re talking about for instance actually contribute more the economy than they cost, and they’ve been providing a lot of cheap labor.

    • Submitted by Joe Bontems on 06/21/2019 - 07:48 am.

      Ms. Larey…you want a more equitable comparison? How about China? With far more people, along with limited arable land and natural resources, this Asian giant has lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, has upgraded its infrastructure far surpassing that of much of the USA, and is now challenging the economic might of the USA in the world.
      No, I am not suggesting Communism as the answer. I am simply saying that the hyper-capitalism, unbridled greed and individualism of your country is dangerous to the world, let alone to 99.9% of your fellow citizens.

      • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/21/2019 - 10:42 am.

        Joe, 88 Million people in China live on less than $1.90 per day. I agree they have done a better job of lifting many out of poverty. But the rural communities still suffer extreme poverty. 88 million is quite a few.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/23/2019 - 08:20 pm.

          It’s about a twelfth of their population; not all that different from the proportion of our population below the poverty line. The real difference is at the other end of the scale.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/21/2019 - 11:08 am.

        Besides, China is Communist in name only. When I was there in 1990, it was during the transition period, and there were places, like the university where we stayed in Beijing, that still operated on the “iron rice bowl” system, where the work unit, in that case, the university, provided its employees with housing, health care, subsidized food, and a modest salary while otherwise restricting their lives.

        At the same time, there were elements of capitalism and entrepreneurship. Some of us took a cab to what was then the only functioning Protestant church in Beijing and had the driver wait while we attended the service. The total fare came to the equivalent of US$27.00, and it dawned on us that this cab driver had earned more in a single morning than the professors at the university did in a month.

        Students complained that they had to take classes in Marxism, even though it was clear to them that even their government didn’t believe in it.

        China managed its transition out of a Communist economy far better than Russia did, although there were harsh inequities. Instead of abolishing the old system all at once, they began by allowing small private businesses and dividing up the agricultural communes among the resident farmers. Since 80% of Chinese live in rural areas, this was a popular move. Traveling through the countryside in various provinces, we saw farmers building new houses and shops selling modern kitchen and bathroom facilities.

        Of course, it helped that China had been Communist only forty years and had the support of millions of Overseas Chinese who had maintained strong ties with their ancestral towns and cities and saw the liberalization of the economy as an investment opportunity.

        I have not been back to China since 1990, but when I see video footage of places I visited then, I am astounded at how much they have modernized.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/24/2019 - 10:40 am.

          We were in China a half dozen years ago. The quality of their infrastructure puts ours to shame. We did not visit any poverty pockets, but how many visitors to the U.S. visit Appalachia, or Native American reservations in Northern Minnesota?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/22/2019 - 08:51 am.

        Yeah, you have to compare apples to apples. China and it’s economy is a wholenuther thing. All we can really say about China is that it’s NOT a small guvmint model, and it’s not a small economy.

  14. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/20/2019 - 02:36 pm.

    Don’t know what to say, in America, business and wealthy individuals along with corporate greed and military spending are always more important than the welfare of the folks that pay the bills, despite that preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”
    Me thinks the R folks believe that everything in the preamble is fake preamble except for; “provide for the common defence”!

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/21/2019 - 06:44 am.

    Americans don’t like spending but we do like what we buy.

  16. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/21/2019 - 08:57 am.

    What is interesting is how there is all this fulmination on the right about how the demon of federal input into education has ruined US education because we are behind other countries that essentially have entirely federally determined education.

    How’s that working out for us?

    We don’t want no damn fed’s teaching our kids. We want to diminish that foolish evolution theory–it only a theory, right? And if poor kids in poor districts do poorly, well that’s just too bad. After all, you get what you deserve, and its clear that the wealthy are the best. And all that BS about climate change, that’s just another theory–lets drop that stuff because who really needs chemistry and biology. And stop telling us what we did wrong in the past, that’s all behind us now that we are free to not go to school with them again. That why we have Fred on the school board–he’ll choose the text books that our church likes. We’re better’n all the rest of those tiny countries.

  17. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 06/21/2019 - 07:22 pm.

    Come ON, Eric. Basic statistics…correlation is not the same thing as causation. There are all kinds of reasons that US life expectancy is lower than some other places. And it has NOTHING to do with government spending.

    We eat too much. We walk too little. We drive a LOT of miles (one of the more dangerous things most people do). We do a lot of drugs. We have a lot of guns illegally in certain hands, resulting in seriously low life-expectancy for self-selected demographics (think young male black or hispanic gang-bangers).

    All personal choices–not the government’s fault. No amount of spending or law-passing is gonna fix these.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/22/2019 - 08:44 am.

      “And it has NOTHING to do with government spending.”

      Dennis, this is qualitative analysis, there are no correlations being discussed here.

      • Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 06/22/2019 - 11:04 pm.

        Come, now…I’ve been reading Eric long enough to see what he is implying.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/23/2019 - 04:12 pm.

          Dennis, no matter how long you’ve been reading, you can’t refute a statistical analysis that’s not being made with a statistical observation that has no relevance. You either engage in the discussion in a coherent way or you don’t.

          Spending isn’t about correlations, it’s about spending. If you spend a million dollars building a bridge, you end up with a bridge… that’s not a statistical inference, it’s building a bridge, it’s a direct relationship between the money you spend on the bridge, and bridge that gets built with the money you spend.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/24/2019 - 09:56 am.

      I agree that we walk too little and drive too much, but that’s the result of our built environment, not some kind of personal moral failing.

      I’ve lived in Japan and have been back to visit literally 20 times. One thing that’s obvious about Japan, where obesity is rare, even though their diet is not as healthy as people think (too much salt and starch), is that a lot of walking is built into the average person’s day.

      Commuters typically walk or cycle to the train or subway station. If there’s a transfer, it may require walking anywhere from 100 meters to a full kilometer. At lunchtime, there are often dozens of restaurants in walking distance. At the end of the day, it’s back on the train or subway, with a walk or bike ride the last mile home.

      Even stay-at-home housewives walk to the grocery store or the little shops daily instead of driving once a week, and typically, all the small things one might need to buy for the household are available within walking distance.

      Such a lifestyle is nearly impossible in Minneapolis and more so in most American cities. Americans don’t get the same kind of exercise that is built into Japanese people’s lives unless they make a deliberate effort to join a gym and attend faithfully or live in a place that has lots of destinations to walk to.

  18. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/24/2019 - 08:57 am.

    “So we need to spend more and tax more” – A moderate deficit hawk.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/24/2019 - 12:27 pm.

      Maybe the real questions are: Are we spending on the right stuff? $3/4 T a year on defense, subsidies for Oil companies Amazon, etc. private business jets for executives, the average Joe/Jane doesn’t get to deduct the car going back and forth to their $12/Hr job . Are we getting fair compensation for oil/gas on public lands, (doubtful from this perspective) Unlimited Health care for politicians (no means testing), denial of the same health care for Veterans, they are means tested!. Why do folks have to support churches, they don’t pay any taxes, yet these mega preachers have fleets of private jets? Why can’t we find out what companies are making millions off of welfare, US (under T) doesn’t want us to know, why is US writing checks to Trump’s resorts, looks like T is cashing in on his presidency at the tax payers expense? RG its complicated!

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