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Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (A Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy Book) Paperback – January 1, 1987

ISBN-13: 978-0195059007 ISBN-10: 019505900X Edition: 1st

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"A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption"
Various interest groups encamped in the District of Columbia mean we now have a special interest democracy. Find out more

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Product Details

  • Series: A Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy Book
  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (January 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019505900X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195059007
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Higgs, a political economist, analyzes how the American federal government has come to exercise so much control over individuals and the marketplace in this century. Essentially he proposes that government control, which increases during a war or economic depression, continues after the crisis, with each increase influencing the prevailing ideology, making further increases more acceptable to the public. The process involves government taking on new functions more than expanding traditional ones. Because of this ratchet-like movement toward ever bigger government, Higgs is somewhat pessimistic about the survival of individual rights and a free society. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. David Steiniche, Social Sciences Department, Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A very useful book for modern American history courses."--Frank Annunziata, Rochester Institute of Technology

"Insightful, compelling, and clear. Higgs breaks new ground in explicating the most important socio-political trend of our time--the growth of American government."--Brian Summers, Senior Editor, The Freeman.

"A superb history....Two hundred years after the establishment of the American Constitution, I can think of no more important reading that Mr. Higgs' book, aside from the Constitution itself."--R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., Editor-in-Chief, The American Spectator

"A thoughtful and challenging work."--Martin Morse Wooster, Washington Editor, Harper's Magazine

"A book of major importance, thoroughly researched, closely argued, and meticulously documented. It should be high on the reading list of every serious student of the American political system."--Political Science Quarterly

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Boudreaux on July 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
Robert Higgs is a first-rate economist and economic historian who sets out a provocative thesis -- namely, that governments exploit crises (real and fabricated) as excuses to grow and to strip people of their wealth and liberties. Higgs skillfully and carefully tests this thesis against history. The thesis stands. Governments do indeed exploit crises as opportunities to confiscate ever-greater powers. After each crisis, the amount of power recently added to government's stock might shrink somewhat, but very seldom back to what it was prior to the crisis. This is one of the most important and compelling books published during the 1980s.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Zachary Gochenour on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
Robert Higgs presents an interesting and painfully obvious thesis: that government takes advantage of crises in order to grow larger, but then never shrinks to its previous size once the crisis has ended. As a case study, Higgs analyzes the growth of Big Government in the United States - a horrendous story of the degradation of constitutional values and the seemingly inevitable growth of the Leviathan State.
The book is more significant now than ever, since its publication in the 1980s. Government has grown substantially, especially the various "wars" on drugs and terror that have greatly increased the size of government and US government involvement in several aspects of domestic life and foreign affairs.
The scholarship is particularly good - mountains of empirical evidence, all relevant to his thesis, are well documented and presented concisely in this book. The book is straightforward and easy to understand; it should be accessible to economists and intelligent non-economists alike. If you've wanted to understand how government insidiously (or naturally) becomes larger regardless of constitutional constraints, read this book. It might fill you with rage, but maybe you can put that rage to good use. Are the ideas of limited government destined to be considered a failure in the far future, or can leviathan be chained down? If this is all government is about, in the United States or anywhere, do we really want a government at all?
Read this book. Libertarians will consider it a great read and invaluable intellectual ammunition; everyone else should read it, if for nothing else, to better understand the nature of the beast.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By D. W. MacKenzie on April 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
Crisis and Leviathan is one of the more original books on Public Choice in since 1980. The idea behind the ratchet effect is simple: the benefits of governmental responses to crises are seen, but the costs are largely hidden. Hence, people tend to see government as more effective than it really is, and want more of it than is justified by the real, but unseen, facts. Some people object to this book, but I have yet to hear solid counterarguments to its logic.

This book contains much empirical/historical support for its hypothesis. This is sound political history, using economic analysis. There are some questions about how we should interpret Crisis and Leviathan. I have heard some argue that the ratchet effect implies that it is impossible to limit the size of any government; any type of government will always grow larger over time. This would seem to imply that we are on an inexorable path to totalitarianism. Some would say that this means that we should abolish government altogether and live in Anarchy (meaning the absence of government, not the absence of social order). Yet the idea that we can privatize all government would seem to imply that we could also privatize part of government, leaving police and courts public rather than private. Why not?

Of course, there have been successful efforts to downsize or limit the size of government. This is what needs further explanation. Why or how did some efforts to restrain or downsize government work. This has happened a few times in history, yet Higgs does not explain why? In any case, Crisis and Leviathan raises important issues and deals with them intelligently. This book should be standard reading for Poli-Sci majors.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Rios9000 on February 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Naomi Klein's very popular "Shock Doctrine" asserts that governments and free marketers (most notably Milton Friedman) use every crisis imaginable to push through free market reforms that the population opposes. The problem is she gets the whole thing exactly wrong. In the vast majority of cases crises lead to bigger government.

Robert Higgs shows how this process has worked in the United States. He terms it the "ratchet effect". Basically government will rapidly expand in a crisis, then after the crisis ends the government will shrink but still be bigger than it was prior to the crisis. As crises cometh and crises goeth the government grows bigger and bigger.

Robert Higgs focuses on four episodes in particular. The first being the depression of 1893 which, unlike crisises in the 20th century the government dealt with it by not getting involved despite massive pressure to do so. Then onto World War 1, the Great Depression and World War 2 as well as a brief discussion of the Cold War.

In each of these instances the government created massive programs and took extensive control of the economy while launching massive propaganda campaigns to promote these programs. For the most part the Supreme Court was complicit no matter how obvious it was that the constitution was being trampled (despite thankfully declaring some cartelization agencies like the NRA unconstitutional).

Yes corporatism and hand outs to politcally connected firms happen by exploiting crises, however this is still big government run amok (who after all is giving these handouts?). And while the likes of Johan Norberg have discredited Naomi Klein's book. The fact that her thesis is not just wrong, but for the most part exactly opposite of the truth needs greater attention.
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More About the Author

Dr. Robert Higgs (born 1 February 1944) is an American economic historian and an economist of the Austrian school. His writings in economics and economic history have most often focused on the causes, means, and effects of government growth. Dr. Higgs has written extensively about the ratchet effect, the economic causes of the Great Depression, regime uncertainty, and the myth that World War II caused economic recovery in the late 1940s.

Currently Dr. Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy for The Independent Institute and Editor of the Institute's quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Higgs is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gary Schlarbaum Award for Lifetime Defense of Liberty, Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties, Lysander Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty, Friedrich von Wieser Memorial Prize for Excellence in Economic Education, and Templeton Honor Rolls Award on Education in a Free Society.