Charts Of The Day: 111 Years Of Federal Tax And Spending

With US Federal tax (mostly) and spending (far less) policy having become two of the key issues of the ongoing presidential debate, we wish to present to our readers 111 years of US revenue and spending data, both in absolute terms, and as a percentage of GDP.

Two things to observe:

  1. Between the passage of the 16th Amendment, which ushered in the modern Federal income tax, in 1913, and the end of WW I, the US somehow managed to exist with only 2% of Federal tax revenue as a % of GDP. Then the war ended, and it was all downhill from there, with Federal tax as a % of GDP first flatlining around 5-6% of GDP, and then after WW II, it found a new home just shy of 20%. One wonders what the new benchmark support for US Federal tax will be after the next global war.
  2. Spending, unlike taxes, have been far more erratic, and far larger on average, than Tax revenues. In fact, in the 82 years after 1930, there have been only 14 budget surpluses. Of note: the four years of Clinton budget surpluses between 1998 and 2001 were the first time Federal tax revenues surpassed spending since 1969. Judging by the recent explosion in government spending, which we doubt will ever be reduced to historical trendline again, the US can kiss the concept of budget surplus goodbye for ever.

Federal tax and spending in absolute dollars - 1900-2011:

Federal tax and spending as % of GDP - 1900-2011: