With Tax Day only two weeks away (haha, happy Monday morning!), it seems like an appropriate time to entertain a common non-Tax-Day-specific gripe: government is expensive and big and pays for things I don't want. Very good; complaining about taxes and the size of government is timeless, if recently very much in vogue.
But how big is government, you might wonder? In a post at the liberal blog Daily Kos over the weekend, David Nir cited a 2012 book by Jennifer Lawless, "Becoming A Candidate," to answer the question. We're not going to spoil it for you. Instead, we'll walk through it.
First of all, there are elected officials at the federal level. You know all these guys -- or, rather, you know that they exist. (And we feel comfortable referring to them as guys because 80 percent of them are male.) So that group of 537 people looks like this.
But that's just elected officials at the federal level. Lawless used data from the National League of Cities and the National Association of School Boards to dive deeper.
There are too many elected officials at lower levels of government to display at the size we did above. So we created the little blue box you'll see below to represent 400 people, just shy of the size of the House. Which gives us this.
Which is something! A lot of elected officials at the state level. But Lawless goes even a level deeper, which is where things get nuts.
That's over 500,000 federal, state, and local elected officials, meaning that 0.2 percent of the country holds elected office of some kind. Nir at Daily Kos points out that this doesn't include other elected positions, like party leadership roles. But you get the point.
Of course, when people complain about the size of government, they're not really complaining about elected officials -- they're complaining about the federal workforce, at large. If we wanted to show that using our little blue boxes, we would need 10,500 of them, according to the Office of Personnel Management. So instead we'll use these light red boxes, each of which represents all of the people in the diagrams above. Giving us this:
A lot of that is military personnel, who we've noted in dark red. Regardless, this gives some sense of what your tax dollars are going to pay for. Except, of course, for the government workforce at the state and local levels. At this point, we'll just assume that they constitute the rest of the American population.