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Big governments, big people?

By Ezra Klein,

“You know,” Speaker John Boehner said last night, “I’ve always believed the bigger the government, the smaller the people.” That led Jonathan Cohn to tweet that the “Netherlands has 45% GDP from gov’tM spending and the world’s tallest people.”

What I’ve always believed is that the more data on your scatterplot, the better your chances of seeing a relationship. So I asked Dylan Matthews to work up a chart. He took the data from Wikipedia’s table listing the average male height in more than 60 countries and plotted each country’s height against the percent of GDP it collects in taxes. The result? A weakly, but noticeably, positive relationship between the size of government and the size of people. Bigger governments, in other words, mean bigger people.

Now, you may protest that this is taking Boehner a little too literally. You might also protest that what we’re seeing here isn’t a relationship between height and government, but height and development. In both cases, you would be right. Though if you do want to see a more aggressive argument for the relationship between government services and height, this New Yorker article is a good place to start.

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