The Size of the Federal Government

H/T Ann Althouse who wrote this morning, “$9.8 trillion. I’m sorry. I have nothing to say. The number is utterly incomprehensible. If you think it is not, I’m going to assume it is because your brain has less, not more, capacity than mine. Please don’t stumble embarrassingly over yourself trying to prove otherwise.”

by Orin Kerr
The Volokh Conspiracy

Three statistics:

Overall Gross Domestic Product of the United States: $14.2 trillion (2008 figure).
Size of the Budget of the United States Government: $3.5 trillion (2009 figure).
Expected Federal Budget Deficit in 2010: $1.5 trillion (Congressional Budget Office estimate).

In percentage terms, the federal budget is about 25% of the GDP of the United States, and the projected 2010 federal deficit is about 10% of the GDP. Given the United States population of about 307 million, that amounts to about $46,000 per person GDP; $11,400 per person in federal spending; and $4,900 per person added to the federal debt.

This is a libertarian-leaning blog, so most of the bloggers here (myself included) think that the federal government is much too big, and the federal deficit is a major national problem. But I realize our readers are a very politically diverse group, and some will disagree.

I’d like to ask those who disagree a question: In your view, what’s the right size of the federal budget, and the federal deficit, in terms of proportion of the overall Gross Domestic Product of the United States? If a federal budget that is 25% of GDP is too low, what is about right? (Also, please note that I’m just asking about the size of the government, not the many possibly related issues such as whose fault it is, past budgetary decisions you agree or disagree with, etc.)

UPDATE: If you feel that you need to break down the budget into specific categories of spending to have the overall answer make sense, please feel free to do that.

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