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Institutions and Government Growth: A Comparison of the 1890s and the 1930s

Statistics on the size and growth of the U.S. federal government, along with the rhetoric of President Franklin Roosevelt, seem to indicate that the Great Depression was the event that started the dramatic growth in government spending and intervention in the private sector that has continued to the present day. Through a comparison of the economic conditions of the 1890s and the 1930s, we argue that post-1930 government growth in the United States is not the direct result of the Great Depression, but rather is a result of institutional, legal, and societal changes that began in the late 1800s.

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