The Evolution of a National Burden – Part 3/7

If you have heard or read, as I have, that the US Founding Fathers did not support universal health care for Americans, it helps to compare medical care then with today and then remember that the Founding Fathers wrote a Constitution that was flexible and designed to change with the times as the country grew.

In fact, when the US Founding Fathers wrote the US Constitution, there wasn’t one country on the planet that had universal health care.

The first country that would have a universal health care system was Germany with Otto von Bismarck’s social legislation in 1883 (almost one hundred years after the adoption of the US Constitution).

Next was the UK when she passed the National Insurance Act in 1911 marking the first steps toward universal health care covering most employed persons and their financial dependents and all persons who had been continuous contributors to the scheme for at last five years.

As you have now learned, in 1787, the concept of universal healthcare did not exist anywhere in the world, so how could America’s Founding Fathers be against something that did not exist?

In 1792, America’s population was 4.2 million and its GDP was $223 million, the cost of defense was $1.2 million (.5% of GDP); interest on the Federal debt was $2.3 million (1% of GDP), the deficit was $1.4 million (.6% of GDP), and the national debt was $77.2 million (34.6% of GDP).

There was no welfare spending probably because 95% of Americans lived in rural America and produced most of the food they consumed from farming and/or hunting. If you live in a log cabin or a sod hut that you built and you grow or hunt the food you eat, is there a need for food stamps?

Today, 79.2% of Americans live in urban cities and do not grow or hunt the food they eat. These people buy food from markets.

In fact, less than 1% of America’s population claims farming as an occupation. The number of farms in the US is about two million. Source:

In addition, life expectancy in 1790 was age 34.5 for males and 36.5 for females, and “the views held by 18th century physicians are very different from those held by medical practitioners of today. Physicians in the 18th century had no knowledge of bacteria, germs, or viruses, nor of the fact that disease was spread by them. Therefore, they did not practice sterilization, or personal or hospital hygiene. … (and) Many people lived too far away from any doctors to use their services, and other people did not have access to doctors because of social customs or beliefs.” Source: US

However, today, life expectancy in the US is about age 75.7 for males and 80.8 for females. Do you know how that increase in the average life span came about?

In the 218 years since 1792, the nation has changed dramatically. Today we have paved roads, railroad, airports, hospitals, electricity, X-ray machines, Cat Scans, MRIs, antibiotics, nuclear weapons, missiles, passenger aircraft, lasers, modern medicine, the Internet, etc.  In 1792, heat came from burning coal or wood and light came from candles. Most people went to the bathroom in an outhouse if there was one available. For most of the US, there was no toilets, running water, sewer systems, etc.

In addition, the first commercial electric power transmission in the US came near the end of the 19th century. Availability of large amounts of power from diverse locations would become possible after Charles Parsons’ production of turbogenerators beginning in 1889.

In 1792, there was no federal pension programs for old people such as federal employee retirement and disability ($119.9 Billion today); Social Security ($706.7 Billion today and funded through a worker-employee tax trust paid for by working people).

Did the nation need a national health care plan, retirement and  Social Security programs when the average person would be dead by age 35? Did anyone even think about it back then?

Beyond the occasional local community supported one-room school house, there was no state or national education systems. But the nation changed, and in 2010 the federal budget cost of public education was $139.4 Billion ($113.2 Billion was paid to the states by the federal government) and state and local costs of public education were $872 Billion funded by state and local taxes such as sales tax and property tax.

Does welfare make Americans dependent and do we have a welfare state in America today?
The answer is NO!

By 2010, America’s population was 308.7 million (compared to 4.2 million in 1792); its GDP was $14.5 Trillion; the cost of defense was $847.2 Billion; interest on the federal debt was $196.2 Billion; and although there was no socialist, life-time cradle to grave welfare system in the US (did you watch the above video?), the cost of welfare was listed as $502.3 Billion that is explained in detail by the CRS overview of federal welfare spending.

We often hear about the cost of big government. Well, the cost of running the federal government in 2010 was only $24.7 Billion for a federal work force, not counting the military or judicial system (federal courts), of 2.8 million people or 0.9% (less than 1%) of the total US population .

Sixty-four thousand work in the federal judicial system and 1.6 million serve in the military fighting America’s endless wars. By June of 2012, the civilian federal work force was down to 2.2 million or  .7% (still less than 1%) of the current 314.8 million US population.

From The Encyclopedia of Earth we learn that, “The tax mechanisms used during the first 150 years or so of U.S. tax history bears little resemblance to the current system of taxation. First, the U.S. Constitution restricted “direct” taxation by the federal government – meaning taxes directly on individuals. Instead, the federal government relied on indirect taxes including taxes on imports (tariffs) and excise taxes. Tariffs were the major source of U.S. government receipts from the beginning of the nation up to the early 1900s. For example, in 1800, custom duties comprised about 84% of government receipts. Internal federal revenue collections (which exclude tariffs on imports) as recently as the early 20th century were primarily derived from excise taxes on alcohol. In 1900 over 60% of internal revenue collections came from alcohol excise taxes with another 20% from tobacco excise taxes.”

As you have discovered, the source of federal government revenues has changed dramatically the last 200 years as the country changed along with the needs of her people and military.

For example, the cost of a musket to arm one US solider in 1792 would have been $250 to $500 in today’s money. For a comparison, a legal fully automatic M16 assault weapon used by US troops that has been registered with the ATF, and can be transferred to a private citizen currently sells for about $16,000, plus a $200 transfer tax.

The cost of one Nimitz-class aircraft carrier runs about $4.5 billion. The original USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, was launched in 1797 and cost about $300,000 to build ($5.45 million in 2012).

Note: The Inflation calculator used  for this series of posts may be found at Dave, and the primary source for government spending was US Government

Continued on December 5, 2012 in The Evolution of a National Burden – Part 4 or return to Part 2

Also discover Each President’s share of the US National Debt  and learn more from the National Debt Info-Graphic by President 1945 – 2012


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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