U.S. taxes aren’t especially high

I do not feel oppressed by having to pay taxes. Competitive free enterprise is a wonderful engine of creativity and innovation. But if we want services that covers everybody without exception – public education, police and fire protection, water and sewer service, public libraries and public parks, inspection of food and drugs for safety, a social safety net – we will have to pay for it in taxes. If we want to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges and physical infrastructure, if we want to be a world military power, if we want to pay down our national debt, we will have to pay for it in taxes.

The tax burden in the United States is a lot less than in other advanced countries. About 28 percent of U.S. output (gross domestic product) goes for taxes. That is a lot, but among 28 advanced industrial countries, only Japan and South Korea are lower, and only slightly. The average is 35.9 percent; Swedes and Danes pay 49.1 percent, the Germans, French, British and Canadians all pay substantially more. If you find this burdensome, you could get some relief by going to Mexico or Turkey, where taxes take only 20.6 percent and 21.5 percent of GDP.

It’s more meaningful to compare actual government expenditures as a percent of GDP because that spending will have to be paid for, sooner or later.  By one estimate, U.S. government expenditures – national, state and local – took up 36 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2006. These was more than South Korea, the same as Japan and less than Canada, Britain or Germany; the French supposedly spent 53 percent of GDP and the Swedes 54 percent.

Go below the fold for detailed country-by-country comparisons.

Here is the percentage of GDP taken in taxes on all governmental levels in selected countries –

Denmark, 49.1 percent

Sweden, 49.1 percent

France, 44.2 percent

Britain, 37.1 percent

OECD average, 35.9 percent

Germany, 35.6 percent

Canada, 33.3 percent

United States, 28 percent

Japan, 27.9 percent

South Korea, 26.8 percent

Turkey, 21.5 percent

Mexico, 20.6 percent

Click on this for the full chart comparing the United States tax burden with that of 29 other countries.

Here is the estimated percentage of GDP spent by national, state and local governments in different countries in 2006.

Sweden, 54 percent

France, 53 percent

Germany, 45 percent

Britain, 44 percent

Canada, 39 percent

United States, 36 percent

Japan, 36 percent

Ireland, 34 percent

South Korea, 28 percent

Click on this for the full list comparing U.S. spending levels with 18 other countries.

Here is another estimate, this one just of GDP spent just by by national governments in different countries in 2007. The figures below don’t quite jibe with the figures below, but I think you can take both sets as being within the reasonable range of estimates.

Iraq, 87.3 percent

Cuba, 81.4 percent

France, 61.1 percent

Sweden, 58 percent

Denmark, 58 percent

Britain, 50 percent

Germany, 48.8 percent

Canada, 48 percent

Japan, 30.9 percent

Mexico, 26.7 percent

China, 22 percent

United States, 19.9 percent

Turkmenistan, 9.6 percent

Afghanistan, 9.2 percent

Click on this for the full ranking of 160 nations.

The lists aren’t strictly comparable, but it is striking how much the figures for government spending exceed taxation in various countries.

I think that when government spending exceeds 50 percent of GDP during a time of peace and prosperity, a nation is in a danger zone.  I don’t think the United States government is in that zone – at least not yet.

Click on this for actor Chuck Norris’ complaint about U.S. taxes.
Click on this for journalist Jonah Goldberg’s complaint about U.S. taxes.
Click on this for Tom Schaller’s reply to Goldberg.

Click on this for a chart of trends of different kinds of U.S. taxes. It shows that the share of corporate taxes over time has gone down, the share of payroll taxes has gone up and the share of income taxes has stayed the same.
Click on this for comparisons of tax rates of countries around the world. What it demonstrates to me is the difficulty in making meaningful comparisons from raw information.


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