The Cost of Big Government

While driving along today listening to National Public Radio, I became fascinated by a program in which experts on Central America were discussing the various causes and effects of the the region's problems, and the U.S. role in it all. There is a lot of history there, including Guatemalan coups in 1954 and 2009 that US administrations played large roles in.

But the part that caught my attention was a comment by one of the experts that palm oil, being grown for biofuel production for the EU, was largely to blame for the mass exodus of poor farmers in the region to the United States. Now, I've had time to check out that point very briefly, and I'm not sure his point is exactly accurate with respect to the issue of biofuels. So, I'll continue to research it and will bring home a blog post with my interpretation of the issue in the coming days or weeks.

In the process, I've tumbled into the wormhole that is the issue of government spending. Naturally, the Departments of Energy and Agriculture are involved in this issue, and in looking at biofuel subsidy programs I came across an informative site that provides us with a simple way to evaluate the costs and contributions of the twelve largest federal government agencies. One video on the site, for instance, examines the data on the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now, that surely gives us a pause and cause for thought. The most shocking was that stat that 11 million farm workers were served by 2,900 USDA employees in 1900...while the remaining 2 million farm workers of today are now served by 93,000 USDA employees. And subsidies to the industry total $20 billion. That's roughly one USDA employee, and $200,000 in federal price support, for every 20 people working on farms. Pretty good service!

But how does this spending on USDA compare to the other large federal agencies? The most current data, put in terms of dollars spent per average U.S. family household per year, looks like this...

Department of Health and Human Services: $9,200 per household
Social Security Department: $8,320 per household
Department of Defense: $4,820 per household
Department of Agriculture: $1,150 per household
Department of Homeland Security: $660 per household
Department of Transportation: $630 per household
Department of Education: $500 per household
Department of Housing and Urban Development: $430 per household
Department of Labor: $310 per household
Department of Energy: $220 per household
Department of Interior: $110 per household
Department of Commerce: $78 per household


So, USDA isn't really the biggest fish in the pond. We can probably trim a few other areas before we go after the friends of farmers. You may be those costs really need to be so high? Of course...let me assure you from my experiences in the ivory towers of academia, I'm 1000% sure the government is watching the efficiency and efficacy of their spending closely...

I have to admit...I've never really appreciated all that work going on for our benefit. Looks like we're all paying about $26,000 per year for our government to keep us going. I thought the Feds were just paying for the interstates, the national parks, and the military. But seeing the numbers above, I guess I can safely assume my medical and retirement needs will be met in princely fashion when I "retire" in a few years. At those prices, I should be living on easy street.

Now I won't grumble so much as I do my taxes next month, since I'm getting such value for my  contributions. And I never would have known without hearing that interesting program on NPR! Hmmm...wonder how much we paid for that free program?

You know what we really need? Federal subsidies for struggling blog authors. Since we don't have enough information out there to consider.

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