10:30 AM

Leviathan Always Grows

Anyone who pays even the least bit of attention knows that the U.S. federal government continues to grow, and grow, and grow. This fact cannot be disputed; using the government's own financial data, one can quickly see the magnitude of growth every year. Some may be confused by the unique language spoken near the Potomac, where budget "cuts" are typically not cuts at all, but merely reductions in the rate of growth versus the prior year. In almost all cases, not only does the total budget grow significantly each year, nearly all components of the budget grow as well. Periodically, certain departments or agencies may see a year over year reduction in their budget, although this is the exception to the rule of near continuous growth.

To illustrate this growth and how disproportionate it is to the world you and I live in, I have constructed a budget tracker dashboard in Tableau Public that allows anyone to select individual departments to see just how rapid their growth has been in the 1962-2016 budget period. This is supported by figures showing the growth rate relative to the government's own CPI inflation calculator (admittedly a flawed measure, but a commonly referenced one), as well as budget shares over time, and trend charts displaying annual patterns. It's a fun tool to explore budget growth, and see where things have really gotten out of control.


If you want to explore immediately, the dashboard is embedded at the end of the article, or you can link here: Leviathan Always Grows

Let's have a look at the dashboard, and what it tells us about certain departments. We'll begin with a couple departments that have fared less well than others in the budget game. First, the Department of Labor:

At the top of the dashboard, we see some of the aggregate measures for the department - growth was barely above the CPI measure (1.2 times), with a total budget growth of 957% over the 55 year window 1962 to 2016. Because of this relatively slow growth, the Department of Labor has slipped relative to its peers by 71%. That fact alone informs us of how much some other departments must have grown over the same period. Below the metrics section we see charts that detail share of budget, a trend chart with annual growth, and a cumulative growth chart (not shown in the above image). These charts provide the details for each budget year in our dashboard.

What about the Department of Defense, and specifically, their budgeted military expenditures (believed to be but a small portion of overall DoD expenses). We know the base number is going to be large, but what about the trends?

While the raw expense annually is close to $600 billion in recent years, the growth pattern suggests a rate only slightly higher than we saw with the Department of Labor. This slow growth rate has dropped the DoD share from nearly 47% in 1962 to below 15% in 2016. Once again, even though there has been significant inflation-adjusted growth, budget share has dropped rapidly. So who's spending the money these days, and increasing their share of budget?

Here's one of the culprits:

The Social Secuirty Administration (SSA), as grown it's share of budget by 71%, accounting for 23% of 2016 outlays. Overall, it's budget has grown by a staggering 6051 percent, close to 8 times the CPI rate. Yet it is still considered to be vastly underfunded by many people who have done the math.

An even bigger culprit is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which administers more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and a bevy of social programs. HHS is the core of what many would refer to as the welfare state; more charitable observers would characterize it as a safety net provider. Whatever your view, it has grown at an alarming rate:

Wow! 31,000% growth? A budget that grew at 39 times the CPI rate? Growth from 3% of the budget to 28%, with no end in sight? These are all staggering numbers, and really tell a story about the direction federal spending has taken.

Now it's your turn to explore the dashboard:

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