In Crisis and Leviathan, economist and historian Robert Higgs shows how Big Government emerged from responses to national emergencies that occurred as attitudes about the role of government were changing dramatically. In particular, governmental responses to the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Cold War, and various minor “crises” (real or imagined) led to a host of new federal programs, activities, and functions that left legacies — including greater acceptance of bigger government—that endured long after each crisis passed. The result was not only a new baseline for further growth, but also a government more intrusive in the lives of ordinary citizens and more resistant to meaningful reform.
One of the most important books ever written on the nature of government power, Crisis and Leviathan is a powerful work of first-rate scholarship whose message has become more important in the twenty-five years since its original publication.
One of the highlights that concerns me:
By conventional quantitative measures, the U.S. government was three to six times as large in the 1980s as it was in 1900. This sounds like a huge increase, but in fact those estimates understate the enormity of the transformation. That’s because quantitative measures (e.g., federal expenditures as a percentage of GDP) overlook the profound qualitative changes that have occurred, such as increased involvement in matters formerly considered constitutionally “off limits” to the federal government.
The book’s page is Crisis and Leviathan, 25th Anniversary Edition.