Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History

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Crisis and Liberty: Lecture 1

  • Crisis and Liberty Seminar

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06/23/2003Robert Higgs

The growth of government power in American history has been by creating emergencies that then necessitate a ratcheting up of centralized power and war. Crisis & Leviathan by Higgs is a prime resource for this topic.

What do we mean by the size of government? There’s no one way to measure it. Economists make the strange and wrong assumption that government must grow when the economy grows. Government is too multidimensional to measure. In the US government is also on different levels, making rules and imposing taxes. Eighty thousand such entities have this power to tax.

The more complex social life becomes, the less possible it is that government officials could have the knowledge required to coordinate human action. That is hubris. It is the fatal conceit. Government growth is not taking place because of market externalities or inefficiencies. The dominant ideology does prop up whatever the government does, but it’s not the whole story. The connection of government growth to crisis is realistic and observable.

Bibliography (PDF):

Lecture 1 of 10 from Robert Higgs' Crisis and Liberty: The Expansion of Government Power in American History.


Robert Higgs

Dr. Robert Higgs is retired and lives in Mexico. He was a senior fellow in political economy for the Independent Institute and longtime editor of The Independent Review; he was also a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He is the 2007 recipient of the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, and the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

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