In this brief, authors Michael Ettlinger, Jordan Hensley, and Julia Vieira analyze how much the governments of different countries spend, and on what, to illuminate the range of fiscal policy options available and provide a basis for determining which approaches work best. They report that the United States ranks twenty-fourth in government spending as a share of GDP out of twenty-nine countries for which recent comparable data are available. The key determinant of where countries rank in overall government spending is the amount spent on social protection. The United States ranks last in spending on social protection as a share of GDP and twenty-second in per capita spending. The United States ranks at or near the top in military, health care, education, and law enforcement spending. Measuring government spending by different methods and including tax expenditures does not appear to significantly alter the conclusion that the United States is a low-tax, low-spending country relative to the other countries examined, particularly when compared to its fellow higher-income countries.


Carsey School of Public Policy

Publication Date

Fall 11-5-2019


National Issue Brief No. 144


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



Copyright 2019. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.