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World War II and the growth of the U.S. federal government

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  • Rockoff, Hugh

Abstract

It is frequently claimed that World War II contributed to the growth of big government in the United States. One theory is that agencies that were given additional resources or authority during the war were able to retain them after the war because the agencies and their supporters were able to take advantage of inefficiency and inertia in the political process. The public, moreover, it is said, had gotten use to higher taxes during the war, so it was not necessary for the government to lower taxes all the way to their prewar level. This is the famous "ratchet" hypothesis. In this paper, however, I argue that there is little evidence for this phenomenon. On the other hand, I argue that the perception that government spending and control of the economy had proved successful during the war contributed to the ongoing shift in public attitudes in favor of big government.
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Suggested Citation

  • Rockoff, Hugh, 1999. "World War II and the growth of the U.S. federal government," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 245-262, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:japwor:v:11:y:1999:i:2:p:245-262
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. M. Slade Kendrick & Mark Wehle, 1955. "A Century and a Half of Federal Expenditures," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kend55-1.
    2. Alan T. Peacock & Jack Wiseman, 1961. "The Growth of Public Expenditure in the United Kingdom," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number peac61-1.
    3. M. Slade Kendrick & Mark Wehle, 1955. "Introduction to "A Century and a Half of Federal Expenditures"," NBER Chapters,in: A Century and a Half of Federal Expenditures, pages 1-2 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Peltzman, Sam, 1980. "The Growth of Government," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(2), pages 209-287, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Roel Beetsma & Alex Cukierman & Massimo Giuliodori, 2005. "Wars, Redistribution and Civilian Federal Expenditures in the US over the Twentieth Century," DNB Working Papers 057, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N42 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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