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It’s because Americans have a gut instinct that by dividing the branches of government – by pitting interest against interest, faction against faction – we can artificially recreate Constitutional mechanisms. We can force the government to do nothing, to leave us alone.
It’s borne out in the statistics, at least in part. When Democrats dominate Congress and the Presidency, as they did 17 times from 1930 on, they spend an average of 19.2 percent of GDP on government. When Republicans dominate Congress and the Presidency, as they did just five times from 1930 on, they spend approximately 16.8 percent of GDP on government. Divided governments spend an average of 19.8 percent on government. Split government, it would seem, is the worst of the three possibilities in terms of curbing spending.
That statistic is misleading, however. It doesn’t take into account what the divided government was taking over for. Divided governments typically arise from Democratic-dominated governments, and they typically lower the percent of GDP spent on government. When Democrats take over again, they raise it up again – but because their starting point is low, their average of GDP percent spent on government is artificially low. Take, for example, the period from 1951-1961. In 1951 and 1952, Democrats ran the show; they spent an average of 16.8 percent of GDP on government. In 1953 and 1954, Republicans took over, and proceeded to jack up spending to 19.6 percent of GDP. Then the government was split, with Democrats taking over Congress and Eisenhower remaining in the White House. The next two years, government spending declined to 16.9 percent of GDP, then increased moderately back up to average 18.3 percent in 1960 and 1961.
That seems to be the pattern. The same thing happened from 1967 to 1977. It happened again from 1995-2001. On average, Republican dominated government increases spending by 1.1 percent of GDP; Democrats increase spending by 2 percent; and divided government decreases spending by about 1 percent.
Are we crazy? Absolutely not. Government is. When we have to purposefully elect people of two different parties just so that they’ll both leave us alone, we’re in serious trouble. Unfortunately, that currently seems like the best solution – unless Republicans can show us they’re truly serious about cutting spending this time.
Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
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