Public: Government Waste Tops $1.8 Trillion

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Here’s a fascinating little chart. The question is, “Out of every dollar the federal government collects in taxes, how many cents do you think are wasted?” The average answer, in the latest Washington Post poll, is 53 cents. A few comments:

  • Clearly, Republicans are winning the PR battle on this score. The idea that 53 cents of every dollar is wasted is obviously ridiculous even for the most ardent tea partier, but I don’t suppose this ought to be taken especially seriously as an actual response. Rather, it’s sort of crude proxy measure of dissatisfaction with gummint spending. And it’s been going up steadily for 25 years.
     
  • If the average was 53 cents, that means lots of people must have said 60 or 70 or 80 cents. Even more fascinating! I’d love to see the distribution on this answer.
     
  • Although there’s a secular rise over time, specific dips and spikes seem unrelated to the party in power or to economic conditions. Maybe this is just statistical noise, though the drop from 1998 to 2000 was pretty substantial.
     
  • At this rate, by the year 2135 the average voter will think the entire federal budget is pure waste.

I wonder how people in other countries would respond to a question like this? And what does it all mean? Ponder away in comments.

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