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.
As of this writing the president of the United States is prosecuting a war with admirable objectives. But at what cost to American society? Within weeks of the initiation of the U.S. effort the administration has announced steps that will curtail the civil liberties of citizens and visitors alike, even circumventing the right to proper trial. There appears to be a good chance that U.S. citizens will be required to carry so-called national ID cards. Higgs explains why this should come as no suprise since war is the grand historical excuse offered by politicians to increase their powers and diminish those of their subjects, whatever the merits of their original objectives. This is one of the essential books in the literature of liberty, and it could not be more pertinent as a siren and antidote to the threat to freedom posed by ever-larger government.
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.
This book is a well researched classic on the horrors of the state. Tediously footnoted and well organized, the book offers the concept of the "ratchet effect"- government taking advantage of (sometimes creating) "crisis" as an excuse to dramatically increase government power, and fails to reverse this after the so called emergency passes. Higgs succeeds at proving his hypothesis beyond any doubt with history backed by many, many sources and does this in a way that is both readable and academic. In today's world, few books could be a more relevant warning about government