The twentieth century saw a major expansion of the role of government, both as a producer of goods and services and as a regulator and stabiliser of the national economy. Controversy has raged for more than 250 years over the proper role of government in British political economy, and it was especially fierce during the twentieth century. These ideological, doctrinal and sectional struggles left unresolved, however, even the basic question whether the state is fundamentally the solution or the cause of national economic problems. The summary of Allen’s (1979) polemic, to which attention has already been drawn, heaps particular criticism on politicians, civil servants and the structure of state policy as causes of the British disease. There have been equally strong appeals to the state as the only force powerful enough to reverse decline. Before examining this literature, it is essential to grasp the different ways of measuring the pattern of public sector growth.
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