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Christopher Hood and Ruth Dixon explain the results of their recent project aiming to assess the effects of successive efforts to reform the executive government (the ‘state machine’) of the UK over the past thirty years. This project explores how those reforms played out, and how far they delivered on what had been claimed and expected of them. How much ‘leaner and meaner’ was the state machine after a generation of such changes? Such an exploration is not only an interesting study in its own right; it is also significant for assessing the prospects for the future of government in the coming decades, for example in assessing how government changed in the periods of cutbacks in the 1980s and early 1990s in the context of what is likely to be a period of prolonged fiscal restraint in the 2010s.

The Submerged State: Atlantis? No, a slim and highly readable volume in which Suzanne Mettler describes how certain public policies have become highly resistant to reform and damaging to American democracy. By ‘submerged state’ Mettler means a set of indirect government subsidies and benefits whose size and beneficiaries, indeed whose very existence, is largely invisible to the public. Some types of governmental intervention are highly visible: most citizens are aware of them and know something about what they are, how they work and who benefits from them. For instance, most people know about the veterans’ benefits offered by the G.I. Bill. But others are more ‘submerged’, hidden either because they are channelled through private delivery organizations or because they come to …