The amount of money the U.S. is spending in its vain effort to stimulate the economy is hard to grasp. As we’ve pointed out, $819 billion is equivalent to borrowing $10,520 from every family in America. That’s $819 billion that individual Americans will no longer be able to spend freely, as they see fit, and used instead to expand the power of the state.

If that number still boggles the mind, here’s one to contemplate from our friends in Britain. We like to think of Britain as being true to its traditions as the home of liberty, small government, and personal responsibility. But in 2008-09, the British government will be responsible for 49 percent of the entire British economy.

Yes, 49 percent. One out of every two pounds.

And that’s just the national average. In parts of Britain, the situation is much, much worse. In northeast England, the state will be responsible for more than 66 percent of all economic activity. In Wales, the state will control 71.6 percent of the economy, and in Northern Ireland – which has supposedly rebounded with the end of the IRA’s terrorist campaign – the state will be responsible for 77.6 percent. Even in southeast England, the government’s share has grown from 33 to 36 percent in the past four years.

It’s not easy to understand how big a billion is. But it’s a lot harder to grasp how big a state that controls half the economy is. And there is no way this is compatible with liberty. When the state controls two out of every three transactions, everyone looks to the state, and the state looks at everything. As the Sunday Times cuttingly points out:

The state now looms far larger in many parts of Britain than it did in former Soviet satellite states such as Hungary and Slovakia as they emerged from communism in the 1990s, when state spending accounted for about 60% of their economies.

As Hayek pointed out in 1944, “Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is control of the means for all our ends.” And now the U.S. is following Britain merrily down that road.