“Everyone knows that the government of the United States has grown enormously during the past century, but no one knows exactly how much.” - Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan
This dashboard provides an overview of changes to the size and composition of the federal government over time. Understanding how the federal government has evolved is critical to understanding the nature of the American federal system. One reason is simply that Americans do care about the distribution of power at different levels of government, perhaps uniquely so. As one scholar famously put it, Americans have an "intuitive federalism" (Schneider 2013). That is, U.S. citizens assign different policy responsibilities to the state, national, and local governments. A few important consequences flow from this observation. One is that Americans tend to be more dissatisfied with government, the more power is shifted or transferred away from the state and local level. American satisfaction with government and society is influenced "not only by what public officials are doing, but also by which levels of government are doing it" (ibid.).
How would we know to what extent (or to what degree) the balance of power in the American federal system has changed over time? Can the process of centralization and decentralization be measured?
To explore various answers to these questions, click on the icons below. As a general rule, the data presented in this dashboard follows a commonly used logic in deciding how to measure the size and scope of government in the United States: how much does it spend? How many people are employed? And how much does it do?
In addition to the common measurements of government size, this dashboard also presents summaries of the latest academic research on "Power Shift" and "De/Centralization."