The State at Work, Volume 1
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The State at Work, Volume 1

Public Sector Employment in Ten Western Countries

Edited by Hans-Ulrich Derlien and B. Guy Peters

Representing the most extensive research on public employment, this volume explores the radical changes that have taken place in the configuration of national public services due to a general expansion of public employment that was followed by stagnation and decreases. Part-time employment and the involvement of women also increased as a component of the public sector and were linked to the most important growth areas such as the educational, health care and personal social services sectors. The two volumes that make up this study shed important insight on these changes.
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Chapter 6: Public Employment in the United States: Building the State from the Bottom Up

B. Guy Peters


B. Guy Peters The conventional stereotype of the United States is of a society with a minimalist government, especially when compared with its counterparts in Western Europe, and its neighbour to the north Canada. A second and related stereotype has been that American government is concerned almost entirely with defence and the other ‘defining functions’ of government (Rose 1976), with only a residual welfare state. Both these stereotypes have a certain amount of validity. The public sector in the United States is ‘smaller’ by most definitions than are governments in most European states, and there is a large defence component at the federal level. There is no comprehensive health care system and the social safety net is substantially less developed than is that in European welfare states. On the other hand the stereotypes also make it far too easy for the casual observer to underestimate the importance of the public sector in the United States and to misunderstand the size, complexity and impact of American government. Americans complain about ‘big government’ and it is big in absolute terms – a total of more than 20 million people now work for governments at all three levels. Those millions of people provide a wide range of public service, with the largest areas of employment being education and health. There is a major ‘warfare state’, and it is increasing under the second Bush administration, but domestic employment and spending are overshadowing the defence side of government. It is also crucial to remember...

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