Beliefs in Government

By Max Kaase; Kenneth Newton | Go to book overview

4
The Growth and Decline of the State?

The growth of the state is one of the most notable features of twentieth- century politics. Whatever the measure -- taxes exacted, money spent, people employed, services delivered, laws passed, regulations implemented, people affected -- the amount and the range of state activity has grown out of all recognition in the twentieth century, especially in the latter half. It is not just the scope of government which has expanded, but also the depth of its influence on the everyday lives of citizens. This combination of scope and pervasiveness gives the state its paramount significance in Western Europe.

Three major twentieth-century events helped create big government. The Great Depression of the 1930s prepared the political ground for a Keynesian approach to economic management and social policy. The war efforts of 1939-45 then accustomed people to higher levels of government intervention and helped create a sense of community and national solidarity which was conducive to the development of public services ( Peacock and Wiseman 1967; Goodin 1988). And third, postwar reconstruction, with its goals of creating a land fit for heroes and destroying forever the social and economic bases of political extremism, consolidated the public mood in favour of government services.

However, it was the peace and economic growth of the 1950s and 1960s which resulted in the most rapid expansion of the state. As Goldsmith shows in his chapter on ' The Growth of Government' in Volume iii (see also Gould 1983), this period saw an unprecedented escalation of government activity, especially public expenditure. On the income side, average government receipts almost doubled as a percentage of GDP from 27 per cent in 1950 to 45 per cent in 1990. Tax revenues increased 40 per cent. On the spending side, the cost of social and health services almost doubled as a proportion of GDP, while

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