I start by examining whether this war, like others (most notably World War II), will increase the demand for big government. I think it will not because government tends to take on the character of the larger society. And the larger society is becoming more, not less, decentralized: a society that is moving toward markets and away from bureaucracy, toward decentralized choice and accountability and away from centralized command and control. In this respect, America is returning to its basic character. For it’s my contention that current postindustrial America more closely resembles Tocqueville’s preindustrial America than the industrial America in which most of us grew up. Industrial America was Big Unit America, a nation dominated by Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor. The leaders
of these big units made decisions and deals among themselves and then gave orders to the millions of Americans in the ranks below them. This was a nation in which economic production was increasingly governed by the time-motion studies of Frederick W. Taylor, who saw workers as unskilled, interchangeable parts whose job was to perform their tasks as required by experts in charge of the centralized big units. People took pride in being small cogs in large machines. This was an America of people in uniform, in which almost all young men spent years in the service; it was an America in which people were conformists, organization men, average guys and gals. It was Big Unit America that won World War II. This was a war won by twelve million Americans under arms-one-quarter of the number of Americans employed the year before Pearl Harbor-and by the mass production of relatively simple machines. It was a war in which the government absorbed 45 percent of the gross domestic product (with 80 percent of that spent on defense). It was a war in which the government rationed coffee and sugar, gasoline and rubber; in which the government ordered factories converted to defense production; in which the government set wage and price controls. This was a triumph of industrial Big Unit America, a triumph produced by large organizations operating under centralized command and control. It was a triumph that gave Americans an appetite for bigger government, and politicians of the postwar period gave us bigger and bigger government-bigger by far than the government of the New Deal.