I’ll have to say that I’m fascinated by old magazines. It’s just so captivating to look back 40 or 50 years and see what was going on at the time, and what was popular. So, in that vein, I came across an old issue of Look magazine from 1949 the other day and saw this article headline: Is Our Government Too Big? It’s an analysis piece based on the work of the “Hoover Commission.”
Join me as I look at what they thought big government was in 1949 and laugh at it:
Hoover Commission, 1949
If you ran your own business the way the Federal Government is run, you’d probably go broke.
That’s the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the Hoover Commission’s study of our Government. The Commission’s reports for the 81st Congress show thousands of examples that might well lead to waste and inefficiency – such examples as these:
1. It took a Government agency several months and cost $5,000 to comply with an order to cut its employees from 7,000 to 5,000. Paper work is so voluminous that the tendency in government is to keep an inefficient employee rather than to go through the red tape necessary to dismiss him.
2. Thirty-eight different government agencies lend money.
3. Sixteen different government agencies are engaged in wildlife preservation.
4. The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior has 393,000 Indians under its jurisdiction or care. It employs 12,269 persons to administer its program. That’s one employee for every 32 Indians.
5. The Veterans Administration requires an average of 73 days to pay death claims on Government life insurance. Whereas private insurance companies pay about 80 per cent of their death claims within 15 days after receipt of satisfactory proof of death.
6. Toll rates on the Panama Canal in 1948 were the same as they were 10 years earlier, in 1938, despite the fact that expenses were up 79 per cent.
7. The Army tore down a camp in Alaska that cost $16,000,000. It shipped the lumber to Seattle, Wash. The Department of the Interior got the lumber in Seattle and shipped it back to a point 10 miles from where it was.
On and on they go, these stories about what’s wrong with the business of government. You and other Americans are paying $40,658,000,000 to keep it going.
–William B. Arthur, Look [em. mine]
Boy, all that sounds really familiar doesn’t it. It goes on:
By its own admission, it employs 2,090,554 civilian workers, with an annual payroll of more than $6,000,000.000. Its 1,816 separate bureaus and agencies occupy 46,865 separate offices whose combined area is equal in size to the area of 170 buildings like the Empire State. It took 1,353 pages of fine print in a book weighing six pounds, five ounces to present the budget estimates of your government’s business for 1949 fiscal year operations.
It has a debt of $252,435,000,000. That’s equal to an obligation of $1,722 for every person in the country. It costs more than five billion dollars a year just to pay the interest on that debt. That’s more than the annual cost of operating the entire Federal Government in the years before 1934, except for the war budgets of 1918-21.
–William B. Arthur, Look [em. mine]
How do all those stats compare to government today? Well, I tried to get a handle on how many total civilian Federal employees there are now but found it practically impossible. I did find a bunch of articles listing the Federal head counts, but they were all different. Some varied by as much as 600,000. And, all of them didn’t include large portions of Homeland Security. Then, when you compare that with this article saying that DHS contractors outnumber actual employees you just have to throw your hands up and ball park it at somewhere around 4.5 million for all 3 branches, excluding military. But, who really knows.
What about total Federal payroll? The latest figures we have are for 2009 by the Census Bureau. It gives annual payroll as around $15 billion per month for the 2.8 million employees listed. Since we know that 2.8 million figure is dubious and it’s been two years since those figures were accurate, we can safely assume the total Federal payroll is well over $200 billion. But, again, who really knows.
How many pages are in the 2011 Federal budget? You can download the entire thing as a collection of 25 PDF files. The total page count is around 3500 pages.
And what about debt. Well, this one is just laughable. The current Federal debt is $14.2 trillion. The entire 1949 debt load fits into the “.2″ of our current debt. And paying the interest on that debt cost us $413,954,825,362.17 in 2010. That’s equal to $46,103 of debt for every man, woman and child in this country. It takes $1,344 per person just to pay the interest on the national debt.
Oh, to be 1949 again.