"Social Expenditures" In the US Are Higher Than All Other OECD Countries, Except France

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), "social expenditures" are expenditures that occur with the purpose of redistributing resources from one group to another, in order to benefit a lower-income or presumably disadvantaged population.

Social Security in the US is one example, and would be considered a "public expenditure" because it involves direct spending by a government agency.

However, governmental bodies in the US and elsewhere also employ a wide array of mandates and tax-based benefits and incentives to carry out social policy. This distinguishes the US in particular from most European countries that rely more on cash benefits or non-cash benefits administered directly by governments.

But governments are not limited to direct benefits. Governments may also employ "tax breaks for social purposes" (TBSPs) including tax credits for child care, and tax breaks for health-care related spending. 

Furthermore, in the United States —  more so than in other countries — governments create tax incentives and mandates that lead to high levels of "private social expenditure." The OECD defines these private expenditures as expenditures that are designed to redistribute wealth, but are not administered directly by government agencies:

Mandatory private social expenditure: social support stipulated by legislation but operated through the private sector , e. g. direct sickness payments by employers to their absent employees as legislated by public authorities, or benefits accruing from mandatory contributions to private insurance funds.

Voluntary private social expenditure: benefits accruing from privately operated programmes that involve the redistribution of resources across households and include benefits provided by NGOs, and benefit accruing from tax advantaged individual plans and collective (often employment - related ) support arrangements , such as for example, pensions, childcare support, and, in the US, employment - related health plans 

The focus on direct government spending, however, creates the impression that the US does not engage in the business of redistributing wealth to the degree of other OECD-type countries. But this is not the case. When we consider tax incentives, benefits, and mandates, the picture is very different.

When just measuring direct government spending as a percentage of GDP,  the US ranks fairly low. Note however, that even in this case, the US ranks above both Australia and Canada, two countries that are rarely accused of being excessively capitalist:

Direct social spending by government constitutes 18.6 percent of GDP in the US. In Australia, the total is 16.9 percent, and in Canada, it is 16.3 percent. France tops the list with 29.4 percent. 

But this just captures spending by government entities. When we look at other types of spending that result from tax incentives and mandates, things look different.

Once tax breaks for social purposes (TBSPs) are included, the US begins to look much more similar to its European counterparts. By this measure, the US falls in the middle, with more net social spending (as a percentage of GDP) than New Zealand, Norway, Luxembourg, Australia, and Canada:


By this measure, social spending constitutes  20.1 percent in the US, compared to 17.4 percent in Australia and 15.3 percent in Canada. Luxembourg is 18.0 percent and Norway is 18.1 percent. France, again, tops the list with 27.9 percent.

These tax breaks have the effect of encouraging "private" social expenditures as well, including health care spending (for example).

Once these "private" sources of social spending are included, we find that the US spends the most by far. We should note also that these figures, from 2011, predate the enactment of "Obamacare," and do not reflect what will likely entail far greater amounts of private social social expenditure on health care.

In this measure, private social spending comes in at 10.1 percent which is almost twice as much as the next big private spender, the Netherlands, at 5.2 percent. The United Kingdom comes in third at 4.8 percent:


So, once we take this into account, we get what the OECD calls "net total social expenditure." It is, of course, deceptive to ignore social expenditures that take a form other than cash transfers and transactions with government agencies. After all, numerous countries other than the US employ legislation (including tax law) to incentivize or mandate social spending with the specific purpose of providing benefits or advantages to certain households.

The resulting analysis looks like this:

In the US, net total social expenditures amount to 28.7 percent of GDP. Only France shows a higher rate than this with 31.2 percent. Belgium comes in third at 27.4 percent.


There are a few things we can learn from this analysis. First of all, it is important to note that the US does not redistribute resources any less than other countries. Like most other "developed" countries, the US employs a wide variety of public policies to benefit certain groups and income levels.

Additionally, when taken together, the expenditures that result from these public policies are sizable, and even exceed nearly all other countries measured.

Left-wing pundits and scholars who wish to portray the US as a kind of hyper-capitalist social-Darwinist system conveniently focus on direct cash transfers and social spending by government agencies while ignoring other sources of social expenditures. At the same time, conservatives and right wing pundits, for different reasons, often attempt to portray the US government as a regime that engages in less redistribution of wealth than other states. Both groups are mistaken.

Whether or not the policies employed in the US have had the effect preferred by advocates of more social spending is a separate matter from the amount spent overall. We cannot honestly say that the US is some sort of outlier when the US clearly engages in social expenditures in proportions that rival multiple states in Western and Northern Europe.

Nor should we ignore the fact that the the redistributive policies employed by the US lead to just as many distortions to the economy as does the direct social spending favored by European governments. Tax breaks for homeowners, for example, create incentives for buying homes which distorts real estate markets while increasing the relative tax burden on renters. Tax incentives that encourage more spending on health care drive up health care prices. And so on. And of course, the US employs a wide variety of direct spending and subsidy schemes that create distortions of their own, including Social Security, Medicaid, "Section 8," and others.

Ultimately, we are forced to conclude that redistributive social spending in the US is indeed different from many other countries. But the overall magnitude is actually greater (both proportionally and in absolute terms) in the US than in almost all other countries measured. One can argue that the way that the wealth is redistributed through public policy in the US is "wrong" or "suboptimal." But, to argue that there is less redistribution as a result of public policy in the US than elsewhere is simply wrong.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Ignatius's picture

Atleast in France one can get their teeth fixed or a medical treatment without going bankrupt.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

In UK, teeth fixed is discretionary.

MalteseFalcon's picture

"And of course, the US employs a wide variety of direct spending and subsidy schemes that create distortions of their own, including Social Security, Medicaid, "Section 8," and others."

Social Security should not be bundled in with welfare schemes such as Section 8, as it is not a welfare scheme.

RopeADope's picture

I thought Social Security was welfare for the MIC? I mean isn't that where all the money went?

LowerSlowerDelaware_LSD's picture
LowerSlowerDelaware_LSD (not verified) RopeADope Nov 1, 2015 4:59 PM

Gimme gubmint free shit. Gimme your money. Gimme your time. Or you b a rayciss.

cheka's picture

nyc/dc STOLE  the money during clinton

now they don't want to pay it back.  all this means testing talk is to further that goal.

dc has a 100 plus trillion on their balance sheet....much of it bought and maintained using ss funds.  all they have to do is sell some of that and pay back the money they stole from ss

they never NEVER like to talk about the balance sheet

their propaganda has been masterful...even fooling most at zh.  the only repug candidates fighting means testing are trump and huck.  all of the rest support dc profiling for their favored classes.

conservative dupes actually support dc deciding who gets favored treatment with ss checks.  idiots.

rand, christie, rubio, cruz, bush, etc.....all want dc to profile for ss

BrotherRat's picture

This is such horseshit - what the article doesn't mention is that these ~socialist programs~ costing us so much are mainly upwards distributions benefitting the rich - such as specific tax breaks for the rich and corporation, where the social "free shit" programs aren't really such a large percentage. Corporate subsidies cost us far more than any of this shit anyways - such as subsidizing meat production because it isn't actually a profitable business model. 

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) RopeADope Nov 1, 2015 5:10 PM

there was, well prolly more than one, but a particularly good article at lew rockwell a few years back re the use of social security as general revenue and krugman's horseshit. cant seem to find it.

Butyes - clinton's balanced budget was because he stole surplus.

I wouldnt mind a "voluntary" retirement fund with government involvement, but object to forcing people [especially who could use the extra $$ to pay down debt, saving lots of money on the other side, right?] to contribute to their own.. but to the extent it is a fact of life for the time being - I am fucking enraged at the scam...

SS takes Taxpayers $, separately deducted as 'his' retirement $, then "invests" in treasuries {mostly} which are IOUS from ...wait for it... Taxpayer.

So essentially, the government spends social security contributions on the wars, stuffs a bunch of IOUs in your account, idiot economists [but not accountants!] say, hey, that's an asset - the US is good for it baby! and in order to pay out where people now TAKE OUT more than they put in, we need to borrow to fund it year to year...

so guess what - we gotta sell treasuries [more taxpayer IOUS] or cash them out {money coming from general revenue}

I'm fucking up what was really a beautiful take down, but I just cant find the one I'm thinking of.

shovelhead's picture

Ponzi scheme is a succinct title that spells it out.

The last in line gets broken crackers and no cheese.

Then the crackers stop.

FireBrander's picture

"Social Security should not be bundled in with welfare schemes such as Section 8, as it is not a welfare scheme."

YOU OWE ME A NEW KEYBOARD! I just spit my coffee all over this thing!

NOT ONLY is Social Security a WELFARE SCHEME, it's also a PONZI SCHEME!

EVEN WORSE, it's a THEFT/REDISTRIBUTION SCHEME that steals from the young and gives to the old...and by young, I include people that have yet to be born!

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) FireBrander Nov 1, 2015 5:11 PM

yep. see above {and please feel free to correct/add anything}

BrotherRat's picture

I think the main problem is that the money you put in is practically always going to be worth more than the same dollar amount around the retirement age, so you'll need more dollars upon retirment - so yes to maintain social security there must always be a large amount taken from the younger generation to pay for it. I'm nervous about a Universal Basic Income policy, but I think we can all agree it's probably better than the programs we currently have.

FireBrander's picture

In UK, Teeths straight makes standout in crowd. Best not fix, for others not beat you.

In Russia, teeths straight no matter, head backwards in you fit.

Salah's picture

On average, and who spends the least in nearly every [parasitic] category-measurement: Mexico-Chile-Korea

Time to brush up on the Spanish.

Nexus789's picture

Try getting your teeth fixed in the US if you are poor. 

cheka's picture

there's a medicaid dentist on every corner in tx

FireBrander's picture

The USA "redistributes" very little wealth; but it does "create" from thin air, and "distribute", a metric shitload of "Unicorn Money" that it GIVES to Washingtons' best lobbyists.

Military spending, Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare, SNAP...all the exact SAME SHIT...corporate Lobbyists buying their piece of the pie.


Boris Alatovkrap's picture

"Skittle Color Unicorn Money" or "SCUM".

Stuck on Zero's picture

What is forgotten in the social spending ratio is that "GDP" is an absolute farcical number like unemployment and inflation.

GMadScientist's picture

We got these potential customers see, but they're all broke. We can't convince them to buy new credit cards anymore, but if we tell them they're screwing over you guys, they'll line up in droves, so whaddaya say, can we count on you in November? Let's get those account transfers to your bundler friends started shall we?

spiral galaxy's picture

Acrually, the story title shoud be changed to: "Vote Buying Expenditures" are Highest in the US.......etc.  Really, that's all this is about!  F-ing politicians addicting people to a handout using 'printed' money and money from future generations.

Salah's picture

You've swerved upon a key point; what makes this possible?

A: the PetroDollar Imperium (where we "sell" the world "protection", and in turn, they use our paper-script for commerce)

Every scheme has a birthday: the PDI was born Valentine's Day, 1945, at Suez in the north end of the Red Sea, upon the battleship Quincy

If you know its birthday...you know how it continues on or [gasp!] ...ENDS.

sun tzu's picture

In France the government bankrupts one with 50% taxes. When will people realize that nothing is free for the middle class serfs?

venturen's picture

the difference is that in France the government gives lots to the middle class. The US has 50% taxes once you take into account all the levels of taxation. add up your sales, property, car, local, state, county, Federal, Fica, Social Security, payroll tax...you find it higher than 50%. I lived in England and Holland....you are dreaming if you think the US is low taxed. A 5 million pound house in cental london is 2600 pounds property taxes...nj equivalent property tax of $5k would be a $75k garage. 

junction's picture

For proof that this analysis is total rot by a tunnel-visioned Pollyanna, just read the series the New York Times now is running on how the criminals on the U.S. Supreme Court have used arbitration clauses to strip U.S. citizens of the right to sue as part of a class action.  Arch criminal (and that is what he really is) Chief Justice Roberts tried to use an arbitration clause to toss out a class action lawsuit against Discovercard when he was a private attorney.  He lost then, but in 2011, he voted with the 5-4 majority to enable lawbreakers to shield themselves by having an arboitration clause in contracts they have consumers sign.  Roberts should have recused himself in the 2011 case, what an honest judge would do, not a lying POS who is an enemy of the people, as Roberts proved without a doubt when he upheld Obamacare, the worst medical insurance law possible, on par qualitywise with Michelle Obama's school lunch program. 



More than a decade in the making, the move to block class actions was engineered by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit card companies and retailers, according to interviews with coalition members and court records. Strategizing from law offices on Park Avenue and in Washington, members of the group came up with a plan to insulate themselves from the costly lawsuits. Their work culminated in two Supreme Court rulings, in 2011 and 2013, that enshrined the use of class-action bans in contracts. The decisions drew little attention outside legal circles, even though they upended decades of jurisprudence put in place to protect consumers and employees.

One of the players behind the scenes, The Times found, was John G. Roberts Jr., who as a private lawyer representing Discover Bank unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving class-action bans. By the time the Supreme Court handed down its favorable decisions, he was the chief justice.

Corporations said that class actions were not needed because arbitration enabled individuals to resolve their grievances easily. But court and arbitration records show the opposite has happened: Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people dropped their claims entirely.


Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Does social expenditure including purchase of vodka and other libation?

GMadScientist's picture

Look here, Icanhazdat! Could be is growing potato and NSF grant for still, I mean biomass reduction, aheam, research, don't being too much is lazy, tovarisch.


Shad_ow's picture

Only for government departments and Congressional leaders.

Boehner exceeded his budgetary allotment.

Teh Finn's picture
Teh Finn (not verified) Nov 1, 2015 3:49 PM

Who is John Galt?

FireBrander's picture

"Who is John Galt?"

He's a Rightwingnut, Sociopath, NUTJOB...he's the center of the universe within his fucked up mind.

PS> He's also the "hero" of many Conservative Republicans.

Teh Finn's picture
Teh Finn (not verified) FireBrander Nov 1, 2015 4:04 PM

Thanks for that confession Ivan.

sun tzu's picture

Anyone who refuses to be a slave to the evil fuckface leftwing parasitic psychopaths is labeled as a nutjob

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Only because citizenry is collective victim to testicular clamp.

FireBrander's picture

"leftwing parasitic psychopaths"

If you believe only "leftwingers" are "parasitic psychopaths", then you're a "psychopath" with a brain "parasite"

When some poor fucks job gets shipped to China, we hand him a $100 and call him a parasite.

When the CEO and politicians that sent the job to China line thier pockets with millions and millions of dollars, they're "Great Americans".

You're seriously fucked in the head if you don't see that or how it's THE PROBLEM...even Trump gets it!

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) FireBrander Nov 1, 2015 4:25 PM

but but - Ayn Rand said..sniff... that rich people are the good people and people who think sniff maybe wall street and banks and major corps follow practices that are harmful to the country are bad and commies and fart in elevators.

Ayn Rand said!!!!!!!

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) Teh Finn Nov 1, 2015 4:08 PM

a facile, fictional hero for people who stopped thinking once they got to Ayn Rand, but think they have it all figured out because they love to worship people who peddle easy answers, people who live in a black and white world, incapable of nuance?

A hero for poorly-read sham libertarians who claim to hate the state but love its violence?

I mean *you* parrot that phrase all the time, so...


Teh Finn's picture

Oooh, that's "bright." 

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) Teh Finn Nov 1, 2015 4:16 PM


never read the link, huh stupid?


you bet you didn't.

yer just here to troll college freshman level libertarianism and hasbara.

Teh Finn's picture

Actually I did read it.  Wow dude.  Humanism with a stupid label.  Good job making yourself feel special in a meaningless universe(your idiotic worldview).  Incoherent much?

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) Teh Finn Nov 1, 2015 4:22 PM

naturalism, stupid. not the same as nihilism

god dammit you're dumb.

seriously - public school for you, or what?

Teh Finn's picture

Naturalism is even more incoherent than humanism.  Congrats "brighter!".

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) Teh Finn Nov 1, 2015 4:27 PM

Really - so when you're sick, you go to your rabbi and not a medical doctor, huh?

you rely on prayer?

you don't know a fucking thing do you?


if you think naturalism is "incoherent" you are an absolute fucking idiot.

Teh Finn's picture

I don't expect anything "rational" or moral from a random conglomeration of cells arisen from a puddle of mud struck by lightening.  And neither should anyone else.

sun tzu's picture

Another brainless psychotic leftwing fuckface parasitic self-proclaimed intellectual

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) sun tzu Nov 1, 2015 4:21 PM

hey ad hominem!

good for you, pal.

want a sticker?

Ayn Rand Was NOT a Libertarian

amazing how stupid you fucks are

anyone who DARES criticize a mediocre philosopher - the only one YOU have read, then they MUST be commie leftist pink statists who want to take all your money and give it to pregnant illegals.

Hey asshole - its because of fucking idiots like you libertarians can't make any headway with the public and we're stuck with red/blue team.

I donated 500 bucks this year - not a bonanza, but its something.


what did you do? Write "who is john galt" like a fuckin' mook 50 times?

fucking idiots - all you can do is think in absurd binary terms.

gcjohns1971's picture

Since you accused him of initiating ad hominem, I presume when you responded to his four word post by stating two of the four words were for 'poorly read sham libertarians' you were not referring to him ??

Or you do not consider being poorly read to be an ad hominem?

Given your explicitly and publicly demonstrated lack of tolerance for his opinion, as well as your clear boast of financial support for a political party...which are By definition groups who attempt to exercise political influence greater than proportional to population (their purpose is to impose their will by force using government) you clearly do not consider being a "sham libertarian" to be an insult.  Therefore you were clearly not engaging in ad hominem if you implied he was a sham libertarian.

Very interesting to analyze the content of your posts vs their implication... which seems to be diametrically opposed...

But, hey, no one is perfect.  Even people who read Rand.  Even those who who think themselves better than those who read Rand.

Maybe a little silent tolerance or analysis of the Galt character's relative merits would have been a more interesting read.

Good Luck on your personal journey!

Raymond_K._Hessel's picture
Raymond_K._Hessel (not verified) gcjohns1971 Nov 1, 2015 5:42 PM

very technically - no as i supplied all sorts of argument. I did not **rely**

it also seems to be true, and relevant. The *fallacy* of argumentum ad hominem doesn't apply where you say "hey insult you are wrong because x, y, z].

someone who claims the bible is history based only on reading the bible has an invalid basis because they are poorly read'. The condition of not having read anything outside the text is relevant to whether or not the assessment is valid.

But yeah, insulting a guy after whining about ad hominem is pretty silly. granted.

But fuck him anyway.

I dont think your 3rd paragraph is coherent at all. Are you actually arguing from a universe in which we dont have political parties, in which 2 parties DO NOT dominate all our lives?

Are you actually trying to argue some ideological position having nothing to do with reality and criticizing pragmatism?>

And the 4th is simply asserted without explication so there's no telling what you mean to mean.

///thanks. you, too.

you might consider looking into criticism of Rand yourself - both by political libertarians and by philosophers.

Caveat - I'm a Pragmatist - I try not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, which means compromise.

one of my bitches is earnest, arrogant, and yes - poorly read ideologues who apply some absurd "purity" litmus test which, **as a practical matter** means demanding all or nothing, and getting nothing.

I'd rather get something.

We are fucking the middle class and murdering thousands of people. Waxing about anarchocapitalism is fine if we're passing around a joint at your frat.

But in a world of elections and parties - be nice to get something done.

How I look at it, clearly not everyone does, which is **fine** -but one can't dissent from the Randians without them hurling the same fucking invective I heard 10 years ago.

"exercise political influence greater than proportional to population "

sounds to me like the wealthy, and like Joose - but note how many 'libertarians' cry and shit their pants about the latter.

Ann: "All Scotsmen eat their porridge with salt, not sugar. "
Bob: "My friend Fergus eats porridge with sugar, and he's a Scotsman. "
Ann: "Then he's not a True Scotsman. "

Earl Slaughter-- Truck Driver.'s picture

I haven't had a massage like that since I visited a whorehouse in Pattaya, Thailand.


Too bad the author isn't around to BLOW-ME!

GMadScientist's picture

Sorry, he grew up graduated and went to med school.