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The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy (Chicago Studies in American Politics) Paperback – October 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Studies in American Politics
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226521656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226521657
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The Submerged State is a vitally important analysis for anyone who has bemoaned the inertia and inequities of modern US politics.”
(Times Higher Education)

“[I]nformative [and] engaging. . . . This is an important, well-reasoned, welcome volume. Highly recommended.”


(D. R. Imig Choice)

“Mettler demonstrates convincingly that the submerged state perpetuates economic inequality as well as confusion, ignorance, and apathy. The average citizen would benefit greatly if, as far as possible, Mettler’s prescriptions for the reduction of the submerged state were to be effected.”
(Ursula Hackett Oxonian Review)

“Important and provocative.”
(Jeffery A. Jenkins, University of Virginia Congress & the Presidency)

“Why do Americans find government so baffling and irritating—even though many of us depend on public programs for a secure retirement, an affordable mortgage, or a college loan? In this timely and important book, political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains how the United States has come to rely on hidden, indirect policies that privilege special interests but puzzle regular citizens. American democracy can do better, and she shows how. Politicians and the public alike have much to learn from her brilliant and engaging analysis.”
(Theda Skocpol, Harvard University)

“Americans want government policies to be transparent, straightforward, and fair, but many social programs are confusing and opaque and shower benefits disproportionately on the well-to-do. In this timely, penetrating, and highly readable book, Suzanne Mettler illuminates the hidden government benefits and subsidies that comprise our ‘submerged state’ and demonstrates how its murky operation impairs democratic practice and weakens civic engagement.”

(Eric M. Patashnik, University of Virginia)

About the Author


Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University. Her most recent book is Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. JACKSON on November 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Review for "The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine Democracy,
Suzanne Mettler

I came across this wonderfully written book by Suzanne Mettler while browsing the internet for a list of all the major government social policies. Only days earlier, I had been down to the local board of elections to vote for the next President of the United States and other government officials. While standing in line, along with candidate information, I was handed a pamphlet about Frederick Douglas Republicans. I was not aware then, as I am now, that that little pamphlet would lead me to the work of Mettler. In the minds of many American citizens, Republicans represent the party of less government spending and involvement in the private lives of its citizens. While Democrats are generally thought of as the party favoring government involvement mainly through social welfare entitlement programs...more spending. However, Suzanne Mettler's book elucidates the fact that the U.S. government is also, primarily, the invisible supporter of social programs that are incentivized and delivered through private individuals and organizations. Uncle Sam majorally provides funding for thousands of activities that are actually social programs. To many citizens, these programs float beneath their perception regarding the involvement of government, because they are only made visible through banks, businesses, contractors and other entities that directly interface with the public. Because of this, Mettler states that it is beyond time for evidence-based policy making that restores the connection between government and its citizens. This connection she says, will give citizens the capacity to be more deeply involved in the political process and to have their voices actually heard.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on May 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
President Obama came into office with a social welfare policy agenda aimed at reconstituting a conglomeration ('submerged state') of existing federal policies that incentivize and subsidize activities engaged in by private actors and individuals. Efforts to restructure the political economy via taxation, higher education policy, and health care, he entered an area presenting immense obstacles to reform. For much of the public, delivery within those areas has failed to meet the high expectations surrounding him when he took office.

As of 2008, social (non-business) tax expenditures accounted for 7.4% of GDP, the largest emanating from the non-taxable nature of health insurance benefits provided by employers, followed by the home mortgage interest deduction, and then tax-free employer-provided retirement benefits. (Tax expenditures for business, such as those for the oil and gas industry, make up another 1%.) These should be added to the 17.1% of GDP spent on government welfare programs (1995). In addition, the Higher Education Act of 1965 gave incentives to banks to lend to students at low interest rates; this was followed by 'Sallie Mae' to provide a secondary market for such. Then we have the Earned Income Tax Credit

Obama's first problem came from intense polarization, combined with unequal representation in the Senate from conservative, relatively low-population states, and the ability to impede the majority through filibuster via only 41 votes - an obvious target for lobbyists (about $17 billion spent 1998-2009 by the top five sectors). Few organizations, however, represent the general public on social welfare issues, especially those within the submerged state.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Burnam-fink on August 18, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It doesn't take a pundit to know that American politics are screwed up beyond measure. Congress is stuck in gridlock, the economy is stalled, elections are decided by culture war attack ads, and politics itself is derided as a pursuit for lying hustlers. Everybody has a a scapegoat, but Mettler actually has some evidence backing her theory.

The key issue is not the government we see, but the government we don't, the vast tangle of tax breaks, public-private partnerships, and incentives that Mettler deems 'the submerged state'. The size of the submerged state is astounding, 8% of the GDP, or half the the size of the visible state (Medicare, social security, Medicaid, the military, servicing the debt, and the relatively minuscule discretionary funding that covers everything else the government does, from transportation to education to NASA and foreign aid).

Mettler deploys economic and social statistics to show that for all it's expense, the submerged state is a failure on nearly every level. Whatever your politics, there is something to dislike about the submerged state. It represents a transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy, when most Americans abstractly support reducing inequality. It is a distortionary government influence on the workings of the free market, without even the relativity clarity of direct purchases or regulations. It often fails to accomplished stated policy goals of improving access to education, healthcare, or housing. It leads to civic disengagement, as those who benefit fail to see how the government has helped them, or how they can meaningfully impact politics through voting. And above all, it is corrupt, as it replaces broad public participation with the lobbying of narrowly constituted wealthy interests groups.
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