The Road To Serfdom?

That's what President Bush has put us on, according to Peter Robinson, who cites, to prove his point, the following chart:


Note that the increase looks roughly twice as shocking as it actually is because the chart-makers, John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard, decided to start with a baseline of $200 billion rather than zero. They're honest enough to allow that a chunk of this increase is inflationary, and another chunk homeland-security related; what they don't show, though, is the growth of the U.S. economy during the same period, and how the Bush-era increase in discretionary domestic spending looks in historical context as a percentage of GDP. To his credit, Robinson queried Cogan on this point:

Q: The chart shows the increase in spending in dollar terms. Haven't you been able to find a chart that shows the increase in spending as a proportion of GDP?

A: No, I haven't—not in the time I've had available for Googling this weekend, which, since I've been scrambling to get the family ready to go back East for a couple of weeks (we're off at 4.30 this very morning) amounted to a little under half an hour. Sorry about that. And I'll check in the from the beach when I can.

Um ... what? According to Cogan's bio, he's a professor in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University, and his "current research is focused on U.S. budget and fiscal policy, social security, and health care" - yet he can't find a chart showing one of the most relevant statistics to a debate about whether George W. Bush is a wild and crazy overspender? I know where to find those statistics right off the top of my head, and I'm a rank amateur: Just head to, click on Historical Budget Data, and flip to page 8, where you'll discover that in 2001, when Bush took office, discretionary domestic spending accounted for 3.1 percent of GDP, and in 2007 it accounted for ... 3.3 percent of GDP. In the years between, it rose as high as 3.6 percent of GDP, which is on the high side by post-Reagan standards (we averaged 3.25 percent a year in the 1990s), but way lower than in the profligate, post-Great Society Seventies, when we were spending as much as 4.8 percent of GDP a year on domestic programs.

The bottom line: The Bush years haven't been a small-government success story by any means, and fiscal conservatives have every right to be disappointed. But the road to serfdom this ain't. (Certainly Friedrich Hayek himself, who vigorously defended free markets without taking anything like the Norquistian position on the pressing need to drown the welfare state in a bathtub, wouldn't recognize it as such.)