The economic theory behind public good provision is largely unsatisfactory. Bergstrom, Blume and Varian (1986) remains the benchmark paper in the literature and under pretty general conditions it finds a unique Nash Equilibrium that taxes funding public goods will completely crowd out private provision.
An implication of this is that higher taxes should not, all else equal, be associated with greater public goods provision. This is not supported by the data. So what's happening?
In 2008 American government expenditure over GDP was 0.37, markedly below the EU average of 0.47. With the Tea Party being the talk of the town on this side of the Atlantic, I wondered how much of this was attributable to Americans simply trusting Congress less. Does the old cliche of Americans really distrusting government hold true? Not really.
Although the United States is below the (unweighted) EU average for trust/confidence in its national parliament, the members of Congress still retain more support than their counterparts in Belgium, Germany, France, the UK, Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Could it be that a small fraction of Americans are particularly averse to government intervention? Possibly, but this tabulation below seems to suggest Americans are more centrist than they let on.
I'm not sure what's going on here, but I have a few ideas. It could be that a small fraction of government-averse American voters are pivotal in elections; or that differences in wording of the questions between US and EU surveys leads to data incomparability; American levels of mistrust would be much higher if G/GDP reached European levels; or that trust in government has more to do with the latest scandal than the efficacy of its expenditure.
At any rate, contrary to popular perception, it's interesting to see that support for government in Boston does not seem all that different to Berlin.