The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Diminishing Political Returns of the Welfare State

Chris Pope writes:

Thanks in large part to the creation of the American welfare state, the Democratic Party held unified control of the White House and Congress for 26 of the 36 years from the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt to the departure of Lyndon Johnson. In that time, the federal government established Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, farm subsidies, disability benefits, unemployment assistance, low-income housing, and welfare benefits for low-income families.

But after total spending by all levels of government rose steadily from 17 percent of the GDP in 1948 to 32 percent in 1975, the growth trend stopped—and the share of GDP consumed by government spending remained at 32 percent in 2019. In the 52 years since LBJ left office, Democrats have enjoyed unified control of government for only eight years. . . .

This dynamic is not unique to the United States. Across developed economies, the proportion of the GDP dedicated to government spending has consistently followed a similar trend, increasing steadily in the post-war generation, but plateauing in recent decades.

He goes on to offer an explanation for the trend, and to suggest that it’s going to continue.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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