Monday, August 18, 2008

How Come Australia Has Less Government Spending than the US and Has Free Healthcare for All?

Following up from my comments on this post of Madame X, I thought I'd have another go at comparing Australian and US government spending:



As you can see from the chart, Australia spends less as a share of GDP than the US does. Only Korea and Switzerland spend less than Australia among the OECD countries for which there is data. Australian government revenue is slightly higher as a share of GDP than the US, because we have a budget surplus whereas the US has a large deficit. But we have more or less free healthcare for all, while the US does not. Australia encourages people to get private health insurance through tax incentives, and around 35% of people do have private healthcare. This makes free healthcare easier to provide than in other OECD countries where there is less private insurance. So how does Australia achieve universal healthcare when the US does not? Here are some suggestions:

1. Our defence budget is smaller. Also we have far fewer people in prison. The US has 4.5 times as many prisoners per capita as Australia.

2. Because we run surpluses our government has net assets rather than net debt. So we don't have to pay any net interest on the non-existent national debt. There are government bonds outstanding just to keep the market open.

3. Retirement benefits are means tested and less generous than average US social security benefits. Whereas the US gives more retirement and unemployment benefits to people with previously higher incomes, Australia does the opposite. Over time retirees will be more and more self-funded due to compulsory superannuation saving in Australia. Since 1992, employers have been required to put at least 9% of salary into a superannuation fund - the equivalent of a 401k. It's much harder to get the money out before retirement too.

4. Our medical care is much cheaper than the US. Reasons include the high level of litgation and consequent insurance and overtreatment in the US and price discrimination by drug companies due to the fragmented nature of demand for drugs in the US. Doctors earn less in Australia.

So, in order to get "socialised medicine" you don't need "socialist" levels of government spending ;)

1 comment:

Rafi said...

What would be interesting would be to see where Israel comes out in this. I suppose I could dredge the data out of http://www.cbs.gov.il