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Public Sector Spending - World Comparison

As we saw in the previous datasets, overall federal spending (as a percentage of GDP) has tripled in the United States from 1910 to 2020. How does the U.S. rank when compared to other countries?


According to IMF data, the United States is in the bottom quartile of OECD countries - both in terms of general government spending and central/federal government spending as a percentage of GDP. The first chart below provides a snapshot of where the U.S. ranks, compared to other OECD countries in general spending. We rank the United States 24th out of 37 countries. 

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Federal Outlays

Employment Share

IMF Data

Power Shift



Image by Bermix Studio

Expenditures by Central Government

How might this ranking change if we compare OECD countries using a measure of expenditures by central government (omitting state and local government)? Using the same IMF data (excluding Japan, Costa Rica, which have no data), the United States drops slightly in the rankings, although still ahead of its (federal) neighbors, Mexico and Canada: 

Image by Bermix Studio

Expenditures by States

How does the United States stack up if we look only at the total expenditures (as a percent of GDP) by States? Here the picture changes dramatically. In the American federal system, state expenditures account for nearly 17% of GDP. This puts the United States behind only Canada, Belgium, and Spain in terms of regional / state expenditures:

Image by Bermix Studio
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