- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

Americans are used to taking comfort in the fact that European countries such as Sweden, France and Finland are inefficient “welfare states.” Even if American competitiveness slacks off a bit, the thinking goes, we’ll always be on top because the United States would never allow government to get as burdensome as it is in socialist foreign lands. It’s time to start thinking differently as the U.S. bureaucracy expands to record levels.

Even before Obamacare and this year’s spending increases take effect, Americans have to accept that our government already has gotten to be as big as the biggest welfare states. Socialism is not just somebody else’s problem anymore.

A new Fox News report shows that even after adjusting for differences in the cost of living and the number of citizens in each country, total U.S. government spending per capita in 2009 exceeded that of all but eight nations in the world. More than 95 percent of countries have smaller relative governments than we do. In total, U.S. government spending came to $17,400 per capita, or about $70,000 for a family of four. The per capita cost of our government is much more than the per capita income of most of the world.

Sweden might be synonymous with providing costly “cradle to grave” social services, but the Swedes spend just 8.6 percent more per capita on government than the United States. Lefty France spends virtually the exact same as we do. Finland spends 6 percent less. Many countries aren’t even close. Canada - which most Americans think is much less free than the Land of the Free - spends 14 percent less per capita on government than Americans, Japan 32 percent less and New Zealand about 40 percent less.

Taking out defense expenditures hardly changes the comparisons. The United States spends more per capita on national defense than most other countries, but the differences in defense expenditures are relatively minimal compared to non-defense government expenditures. Non-defense U.S. government per capita expenditures exceed that of 93 percent of other countries.

The newly enacted trillion-dollar government health care program will make this spending disparity worse, and this measure of government size doesn’t account for the cost of all the new regulations Mr. Obama is imposing on everything from the credit we can borrow to the food we buy. It doesn’t take into account that American behavior is controlled by the tax code much more than others.

We can’t afford to throw away $70,000 on government for a family of four. If that fortune weren’t funding the bureaucratic leviathan, it would be invested, saved or spent on consumer products people want. It could be used for productive purposes to get the economy moving again. Instead, the money goes down a rathole, dragging America’s competitive edge with it.