Will Wilkinson writes,

Average self-reported life satisfaction rose with GDP per capita over the last several decades in almost all wealthy liberal democracies, but not so much in the U.S. The idea that the unusual composition of U.S. government spending gives Americans unusually poor value for their tax dollars might help explain this.

He is commenting on David Henderson’s essay, GDP fetishism.

Of course, “average self-reported life satisfaction” triggers my baloney sandwich detector. What Wilkinson is doing is putting a psuedo-scientific gloss on his personal opinion that the U.S. government spends money on things he does not like.

Having said that, could it indeed be the case that our government spends its money on much worse things than that of other countries? I find that plausible, but that may be because I know more about how our government spends money than how other governments spend money.

The main reason I find it plausible that our government spends money more stupidly than other countries is that we have such high ratios of spending per legislator and voters per legislator. My thinking is that in Sweden or Denmark if voters see stupid spending they can do something about it. Here, you really can’t. The central government is way too remote, and the likelihood that a Congressperson will be punished by the voters because they do not like a particular program is very low. That probability is made lower by the fact that Congress tends to roll lots of spending into enormous bills, so nobody knows what is in them.

Really, if you wanted public opinion to act as a check on government stupidity, could you come up with a worse system than what ours has evolved into? Yes, I know, I know, I got the memo that says that the problem with our system is that the public is irrationally angry and what the politicians need is more leeway to Get Things Done. I just think that memo is 180 degrees off base.