The Public Interest

The Grace Commission: How much waste in government?

Steven Kelman

Winter 1985

THERE ARE FEW BELIEFS more deeply embedded in the popular consciousness than that government wastes a lot of money. Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider, in their book The Confidence Gap, report that in surveys asking people how much of each tax dollar they think the federal government wastes, the median response is 48¢. Lipset and Schneider argue that the paradox of simultaneous public support for tax cuts, and for maintaining or increasing spending in all major categories of government programs, is explained by the perception that waste in government is so rampant that there can be big spending reductions without service rollbacks.

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