The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
This paper describes the growth of public spending in industrial countries over the past century. It identifies several periods: the periods between 1870 and 1913; the period between the two World Wars; the post World War II period up to 1960; and the period after 1960. Public spending started growing during World War I but its growth accelerated after 1960. The paper outlines the reasons for this growth and speculates that recent government growth has not brought about much economic or social progress. The paper sees the future of government mainly in setting the “rules of the game,” and provides a rough blueprint for reform. It also discusses experiences with government reform in selected count les, and predicts that over the next decades, public spending as a share of GDP will fall.