Pages in the Federal Register 

The table below presents a widely used proxy measure of the size of government. Government spending as a percentage of the gross national product is considered to be one of the most "valid indicator[s] of the relative size of the private versus the public sector" (quoted in Higgs, 1991, p. 21). 

  • moneyup
  • Deezer
  • worldglobe
  • moneyshift
  • percentage

Federal outlays

Employment share

IMF data

Power Shift


Why this measure?

A New System - out of balance?

Given the enormous changes to the American federal system over time, it is reasonable to ask: are we seeing the creation and evolution of a new system of government in the United States? 

David B Walker, in The Rebirth of Federalism (2000), provides a compelling account of the ways in which today's intergovernmental system has become more complicated. Since 1960, there have been a number of transformational shifts, across different dimensions (attitudinal, political, representational, programatic, fiscal, and institutional). According to Walker, there is no way that a return to a simple "cooperative federalism of yesteryear will ever occur, not to mention a drive back to traditional...federalism" of the pre-New Deal era.


Yet, Walker argues, adds, this does mean that we can simply ignore these transformational shifts. Current generations will have to find ways to navigate an increasingly complicated, overloaded, unbalanced ("top heavy") system. In short, today's federalism is a "conflicted federalism." 


What are the most important shifts to pay attention to - in coming years? Walker identifies 12 "dimensions of recent change," which merit close attention: 


  1. increases in the use of Federal aid dollars to states

  2. proliferation of grant programs

  3. collapse of federal-state partnerships

  4. shifting positions of authority between the states and Federal government

  5. expansion of Federal programs and "national activism"

  6. diversification of the forms of federal aid

  7. creeping conditionalism and "galloping social regulations"

  8. creation of new regional programs

  9. erosion of Federal-state tax comity

  10. [partial] revitalization of states

  11. centralizing tendencies of Supreme Court decisions

  12. emergence of national party politics 

The Rebirth of Federalism (2000, 1-16)



  • Daniel J. Elazar, Exploring Federealism 

  • Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan 

  • David B. Walker, The Rebirth of Federalism 

  • David Brian Robertson, Federalism and the Making of America