Comparing Presidents – The Size of Government

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981

This post continues the comparison of Presidents by looking at the size of government, in this case specifically by looking at the number of gubmint employees (i.e., freeloading bureaucrats dragging down the economy). Before we go on, I would like to warn those few Angry Bears that worship at the Church of the Holiest St. Ronald the Reagan to avert your eyes for what follows must be the work of the Democrat, er, the Devil.

One quick disclaimer… of course, there are other ways of looking at the size of government, and no doubt we will get to some of ’em. But here’s where we begin.

Alright. Let’s rock. All data in this post comes from the White House’s Office and Management Budget Table 17.5. Note that the table only goes back to 1962.

We begin with Federal Civilian employees per thousand people…

And now a summary table…

Wassup with St. Ronald? His is one of only two administrations to increase the number of federal civilian employees. (And please… I recognize that there are long term trends out there, but I don’t see how anyone can argue that the Preznit doesn’t have the ability to shrink the size of gubmint if he chooses.) If he really believed gubmint was the problem, why was he trying to afflict the rest of us with more gubmint?

Since someone is gonna jump in and say – “No. Blasphemy. You are looking at the data the wrong way” sooner or later, let me be the one to produce the best excuse I can for the Most Holy One: what matters is not just the size of the Federal Government, but all of government. One can shrink the size of the federal government by forcing state and local governments to pick up some tasks from the federal government. Unfunded mandates and all that jazz.”

Now, I personally suspect that the President’s ability to affect state and local government employment is fairly limited, but its the best excuse I could come up with for the Great Man. So let’s check that data too. The graph below shows all government employees per thousand population. Every last DMV worker and postal worker…

And a summary table…

So what do we see? Well, the Reagan looks much better when you give him credit for a lot of things he didn’t control. The size of government actually shrank under Reagan by 2% a year, enough to make him third best in Grover Norquist’s book, right after GHW and a long, long way behind the grand champeen of government shrinkers, Bill Clinton. (And before you go crediting the Republican Revolution, take another look at the graphs above and and ask yourself when Newt Gingrich came to power.)

All of which raises a question… why do folks like the Club for Growth and the Wall Street Journal and, well, heck, Republicans – why do they revere Reagan and hate Clinton? Let me rephrase that – why do folks who talk about smaller government, fiscal responsibility and growth revere the guy who gave us a relatively big government, big debt and slower growth (well, not slower growth relative to other Republicans, but relative to guys like Clinton and JFK/LBJ) and despise a guy who gave us relatively small government, managed to get debt to level off, and produced faster growth?

Personally, I think its because marketing beats product every time with a lot of people. And St. Ronnie the Reagan was all about marketing.