October 14, 1963
Great Numbers Game
My mail is full of letters which complain of the
ever increasing cost, size and debt of your government. I've recently done
some checking and came up with facts that do indeed appear to be shocking:
Those are the startling facts about your government. But I'm not talking about your federal government. I'm talking about your state government.
If as you read my introductory remarks you assumed I was speaking of the federal government you no doubt had a lot of company because most of the hue and cry about the rising cost and size of government is directed at Washington. But citizens ought to divert some of their attention to what is happening in the nation's statehouses and city halls.
Here are some blunt facts:
Let's examine government employment first. We often hear speakers relate how the federal government is supposedly hiring people as rapidly as it can process the paper work; how we'll soon all be working for the federal government. These two charts tell a different tale:
While state and local employment soars, federal civilian employment follows an exactly opposite pattern: In 1946 there were 19 federal civilian workers serving each 1,000 Americans. The number dropped to 14 by 1956 and today it is down to 13. In 1954, there were 27 state and local employees engaged in serving each 1,000 Americans; today there are 37, an increase of 37 per cent.
There are about 9 1/2 million civilians employed today by all levels of government in the United States. Of these, about 7 million work for state and local governments. We have, therefore, about 2 1/2 million federal civilian employees.
Perhaps we can sum it up this way:
Thus if you subtract those working in Defense, Post Office, and VA, the federal government, for all its varied and important activities, employs less people than the telephone industry.
Since World War II, spending by state and local
governments has risen sharply. In billions of dollars here is the picture:
Thus, in 1946, state and local governments accounted for only 16 per cent of all government spending. Today, they spend over 35 per cent.
This has happened despite the fact that the federal government is burdened by a cold war which, with the costs of past wars, accounts for four fifths of all federal spending.
We hear much about the national debt and
it is something with which we should be concerned. But once again we find
the oft-berated federal government doing a much better job in stabilizing
In a mood of grim good humor recently one of my colleagues handed me a roughly hewn chart showing what has happened to federal debt compared with state and local debt since World War II. It goes something like this:
3.As you can see, such a chart not only creates difficulties for the printer but it also gives a rather startling view of the trend of public debt.
Here's a more informative picture of debt, showing how much each of us "owes" as a result of government borrowing:
Per Capita Debt
It is perhaps surprising to realize that the burden
of our national debt (the debt of our federal government) is actually
becoming lighter. But this relief is being offset by fast-growing state
and local debt.
Earlier in this newsletter I mentioned some of
the astonishing increases in employees, spending and debt recorded by Arizona's
state government. Here are the figures:
Any study of municipal government in Arizona would show a similar pattern. The cities of Phoenix and Tucson, for example, have increased the number of city employees more than three times since World War II. Phoenix employed 1,100 people in 1946, and 3,799 last year. Tucson's city employment jumped from 426 in 1946 to 1,696 in 1962.
In March of this year, the Arizona State Legislature
sent me an advisory memorial charging that "during the past decade the
government of the United States has been pursuing a fiscal policy which
is endangering the fiscal stability of each citizen of the United States."
The memorial admonished Congress to "set a firm fiscal policy." After reviewing
the pattern of state employment, expenditures and debt, I am tempted to
return the memorial with the endorsement, "Go and do thou likewise."
BUT LET'S BE FAIR
Unless the objective is to mislead or distort,
one should not talk about the size or costs of government without discussing
the number of people served by that government. A thoughtless Tucsonan,
for example, might make a speech something like this:
Now the speaker's statistics are quite true. A person hearing this speech might be impressed, incensed and inclined to hang the school board and the administrators.
But someone hearing the rest of the story might
take a different view:
AS POPULATION GROWS, SO GROWS GOVERNMENT
We in Arizona are adept at citing all sorts of
statistics to show our state's phenomenal growth. The Arizona Development
Board, for instance, proudly distributes throughout the country literature
If one were to ignore that fact and merely point out that since statehood Arizona has increased its spending by 11,000 per cent he would likely be hooted off the platform. Most people recognize that state spending -- and spending by our cities and towns -- must climb because Arizona's population is growing.
My point is this: We ought to keep population
in mind when discussing our federal government also. I'd like to do
a little "supposing" to illustrate this:
Preposterous? Impossible? Of course, but, in a
sense, the federal government has done just that since 1952. Our country
has grown by 29 million people -- more than the 1952 population of Mexico
-- but we have fewer federal civilian employees today than we had then.
The record I have detailed above leads to two
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