“Why do Americans find government so baffling and irritating—even though many of us depend on public programs for a secure retirement, an affordable mortgage, or a college loan? In this timely and important book, political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains how the United States has come to rely on hidden, indirect policies that privilege special interests but puzzle regular citizens. American democracy can do better, and she shows how. Politicians and the public alike have much to learn from her brilliant and engaging analysis.”
—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University
The Submerged State
How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy
|Publication Date: October 17, 2011 ||$15.00 • £9.50 |
|International publication date: November 14, 2011 ||978-0-226-52165-7 |
With his re-election campaign in full swing, President Obama faces a series of challenges in the upcoming year: namely a 9.1% unemployment rate and an electorate pessimistic about the country’s current track. Many Americans—with outspoken Tea Party activists at the fore—are calling for smaller government and a decrease in federally backed services. Yet most of the Americans hostile to these programs have at some point relied on them and even valued them. Why? Suzanne Mettler argues that it’s largely because most Americans have no idea that they’re receiving these services. They know they pay taxes, but they don’t realize that they’re also benefiting every single day: from the hidden subsidies, little-known programs, and substantial tax breaks that make up the “submerged state.”
In recent decades, federal policymakers have increasingly shunned the outright disbursing of benefits to individuals and families and favored instead less visible and more indirect incentives and subsidies, from tax breaks to payments for services to private companies. These submerged policies, Mettler shows, obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market. As a result, citizens are unaware of the benefits they receive, nor do they realize that the policies of the submerged state bestow their largest benefits on the most affluent Americans, exacerbating inequality. Mettler analyzes three Obama reforms—student aid, tax relief, and health care—to reveal the submerged state and its consequences, demonstrating how structurally difficult it is to enact policy reforms and even to obtain public recognition for achieving them. She concludes with recommendations for reform to help bring government policies back to the surface and encourage citizens to reclaim their voice in the political process.
Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University. Her most recent book is Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation.
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