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Reflecting upon our debates – or, at least, disagreements – about WHINOS vs RINOS, I began to wonder if there was a difference in assessment of the relative merits of a GOP presidency vs a Hillary/Warren/Sanders (HWS) presidency. We probably all agree that anyone is better than HWS, in at least the short term. But how much better?
If you think things are bad, but not too bad, and in many important areas trending well, then the difference is pretty big. If you think things are really, really bad indeed, then the difference is pretty small. The first camp wants the immature bomb-throwers to shut up and let the adults win the election. The second camp thinks the important thing is to wake the sheeple, and if this election is lost it is a small price to pay for the longer term objective of saving the republic (if that is still possible).
But what do we mean by “bad?” And how does the presidency figure in this? One approach is to ask what would be an acceptable, long-term, sustainable size for the Federal government. Now, government size is notoriously hard to define and/or measure, so I have arbitrarily chosen two measures: number of pages in the Federal Register, and Federal outlays per capita (in 2014 dollars). To give you some context, the two graphs below show their evolution over time.
The number of pages in the Federal Register per year is a proxy for regulatory activity. It’s not necessarily a great proxy, but it does, I think, give a flavor of the activity of the regulatory state. Prior to 1935, there was no Federal Register: Before the New Deal, it wasn’t needed. (The graph is from the Congressional Research Service (PDF).)
Federal outlays per person, on an inflation adjusted basis, give another window on the absolute size of government. (The idea that things should be measured as a proportion of GDP has a lot of problems.) This graph is from Mercatus. It goes back only to 1945 because … I don’t know. The 1948 figure is $2,214. (Remember, these are 2014 dollars.)
My questions to you:
- How many pages should the Federal Register have in a normal year? (It would have a lot of pages in a year that a lot of regulations were repealed, so ignore those.)
- What should be the Federal outlay per person (in today’s dollars) in a normal year?
By normal, I mean on a long-term, stabilized basis, ignoring transitional costs and world wars.
You might also comment on whether you think there is any correlation between the size of government one considers appropriate and one’s approach to the forthcoming election.