“Takes a sophisticated approach to big questions . . . assess[es] the huge role of government in American life in an illuminating way.” —Frances Fox Piven
Despite widespread anti-government sentiment in recent decades—including complaints that it does too much and that it doesn’t do enough—the fact remains that government has improved the lives of Americans in numerous ways, from providing income, food, education, housing, and healthcare support, to ensuring cleaner air, water, and food, to providing a vast infrastructure upon which economic growth depends.
In What American Government Does, Stan Luger and Brian Waddell offer a practical understanding of the scope and function of American governance. They present a historical overview of the development of US governance that is rooted in the theoretical work of Charles Tilly, Karl Polanyi, and Michael Mann. Touching on everything from taxes, welfare, and national and domestic security to the government’s regulatory, developmental, and global responsibilities, each chapter covers a main function of American government and explains how it emerged and then evolved over time. Luger and Waddell are careful to identify both the controversies related to what government does and those areas of government that should elicit concern and vigilance. Analyzing the functions of the US government in terms of both a tug-of-war and a collaboration between state and societal forces, they provide a reading of American political development that dispels the myth of a weak, minimal, non-interventionist state, in a major contribution to the scholarly debate on the nature of the American state and the exercise of power in America.