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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Robert Higgs and the "Ratchet Effect" of National Emergency

One of the most insightful economic historians now writing on the relationship between war and the state is Robert Higgs. In his seminal work, Crisis and Leviathan, Higgs discusses how national emergencies, such as wars and depressions, serve to create a "ratchet effect" which lead to rapid increases in big government. Here are some recent comments by Higgs on this issue:

I have emphasized again and again that the legacies of national emergency are not merely fiscal, but also, more critically, institutional and ideological....we can see both the institutional and the ideological legacies embodied in a generation of highly placed, closely connected individuals who exerted tremendous influence over the apparatus and conduct of U.S. foreign and defense policies for decades after World War II and whose influence may be seen in the government’s conduct of foreign and defense affairs even today, though in somewhat muted and altered form.


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