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Book [(The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy)] [Author: Suzanne Mettler] published on (October, 2011)


[(The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy)] [Author: Suzanne Mettler] published on (October, 2011)

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  • University of Chicago Press (October 7, 2011)
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Read online or download a free book: [(The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy)] [Author: Suzanne Mettler] published on (October, 2011)


Review Text

  • By irishrogue on July 1, 2013

    While the premises of this book were interesting, the author's liberal, left-wing prejudice came across blatantly and dramtically far too often for the book to be considered even-handed or objective. This could have been a good book with more objective research and presentation. If you are liberal and a left-winger you will love this book, but if you are seeking a balanced approach to this topic look elsewhere.

  • By Alton D. Allen on May 1, 2017

    I’ve given this text a five star rating for it is a must read for all persons who support limited government. “The Submerged State” is a classic example of leftist intellectuals deliberately using information that is misrepresented and misleading to promote public policies that enlarge the power and size of the State. Many of us are familiar with instances in which Leftists appear to prevail in supporting their arguments only to later find out that those arguments are supported by deliberately misrepresented information (lies). And by the time these misrepresentations are exposed, the arguments have assumed a phony legitimacy. In short, Leftist narratives, and the public policies from which they arise, prevail because the lies used to sustain them are exposed when it is too late. Texts like “The Submerged State” need to be required reading in order to become familiar with the ways in which Leftists employ dishonesty. Familiarity with this will equip you with the means by which to call them out the moment they are expressed. The failure to do this has been the main reason for which Leftist narratives have not only assumed a false legitimacy but eventually take form as public policy.Additionally, “The Submerged State” also serves to smear conservative and libertarian minded individuals. It argues that they are “unaware” and “confused” about how government operates and, as a result, are “seduced by calls for limited government”; that their “unawareness” threatens democracy; that if given “full information” about public policies, they would be more likely to support policies embraced by the Left. “The Submerged State” is merely an elaboration of the “conservatives are stupid” talking point. In supporting this idea, Suzanne Mettler employs the use of data from an experiment which she deliberately manipulates in order to produce results that align with her Leftist bias.This review will focus on the two greatest problems contained in “The Submerged State”: 1) an intentional misalignment between the hypothesis used to generate the experiment central to this text and the experiment itself and 2) dishonest procedures used in that experiment as a means of producing results favorable to the author’s Leftist bias. Both these elements serve to mislead the reader. Before identifying these elements and how they undermine “The Submerged State’s” research, a brief and fair summary is necessary.For Suzanne Mettler, the “Submerged State” is a part of the federal government containing “policies that lay beneath the surface of U.S. market institutions and within the federal tax system.” The submerged state “includes a conglomeration of federal policies that function by providing incentives, subsidies, or payments to private organizations or households to encourage or reimburse them for conducting activities deemed to serve a public purpose.” For Mettler, “…policies of the submerged state obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market, leaving citizens unaware of how power operates, unable to form meaningful opinions, and incapable… of voicing their views accordingly.” These obscure policies result in people being unaware of the ways in which they benefit from government.For Mettler, the Submerged State’s obscurity can mislead people towards an embrace of ideas, beliefs, and political philosophies based on ignorance. As a result, their participation undermines democracy*, for meaningful participation in a democracy requires access to valid information about the effects of public policy.In order to show the effects of information provision on people, Suzanne Mettler, along with Matt Guardino, conduct an experiment formed off the following hypothesis: the amount of information provided to people regarding public policy has an effect upon the quality of their opinions regarding such, and, consequently, the quality of their democratic participation. Off this hypothesis, a research question is formed: how do varying degrees of information provision regarding certain public policies affect opinions and attitudes on those public policies. From this research question, they conduct an experiment in which 526 randomly chosen people respond to varying degrees of information regarding three types of tax policies (the Retirement Savings Contribution Savings Credit, Home Mortgage Income Tax Deduction, and the Earned Income Tax Credit) and their effect on the distribution of tax revenue between economic classes. The testing group responds to three categories of information: 1) no information, 2) basic information, and 3) full information. “The Submerged State’s” experiment resulted in the following conclusion: people, when given full information about the distributive effects of the tax policies used in the experiment, are likely to oppose policies that distribute tax revenue disproportionately to the wealthy and affluent. Mettler concludes that the Submerged State is harmful to American Democracy and an effort at “revealing” these policies must be undertaken by politicians, civic associations, and transparent “policy design”.Most, if not all, people can agree with the basic idea contained in “The Submerged State” - that an overly complex government makes it difficult for individuals to form meaningful opinions on the policies produced by such. And it is obvious that this negatively impacts democratic governance. The problem however is whom this book’s author, Suzanne Mettler, characterizes as being unable to form meaningful opinions. For Mettler, those persons are conservative and libertarian minded. In forming the hypothesis central to this book’s experiment, Mettler uses five anecdotal instances in which all the subjects are conservative and libertarian leaning. For her, these individuals are the “incognizant” and “confused”. However, Mettler does not identify conservatives and libertarians as threatening to democracy, instead she attributes the threat to “invisible government policies”. In other words, the problem is not persons who espouse limited government voting preferences, it is a series of illusions formed by unseen public policies to which conservatives and libertarians are susceptible; that these individuals form beliefs based on imagery formed by something vastly different from what actually exists. It’s similar Plato’s cave allegory in which the captives mistake shadows for real images, and then form their worldview based upon such. The problem with Mettler’s hypothesis is obvious. She essentially says that conservative and libertarian minded individuals are ignorant, and through no fault of their own form voting preferences that are harmful to a democratic society. It’s reasonable to presume that Mettler’s Leftist bias has influenced the formation of her hypothesis however, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume her to be operating in good faith.From this hypothesis, Mettler designs the experiment. If Mettler’s hypothesis is formed in good faith (although it wasn’t) then here is where the first problem appears. Mettler’s experiment uses a testing sample of randomly selected individuals irrespective of political belief. In other words, Metter builds a hypothesis off individuals of one category (conservative and libertarian minded individuals) but then forms conclusions off responses from a testing group of a different category (randomly selected irrespective of political belief). This is a misalignment between the testing group and the subjects used to form her hypothesis. Suzanne Mettler gets around this misalignment by framing the subjects of the five anecdotes as “ordinary Americans”. This is no explanation of the misalignment. The term “ordinary Americans” merely serves as a justification for equating two groups which are, at best, marginally similar. This is nothing but a game of bait and switch, and this is done intentionally. More on that later.As mentioned earlier, Mettler’s experiment presents the test group varying quantities of information regarding three tax policies. The main body of “The Submerged State” gives focus to a portion of the experiment in which the testing group is given varying degrees of information regarding the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID). Here, there are two types of information provision, basic information and full information. Basic information is a “neutral description” of the basic purpose of HMID. Full information contains “concise information about the relative financial benefits that flow to various income groups as a result of HMID.”Here is the basic information:“This policy is a tax benefit for homeowners. It allows them to reduce the amount they pay in income taxes based on the amount they pay in interest on their home mortgage.”Here is the full information:“The people who benefit most from this policy are those who have the highest incomes. In 2005, a large majority of the benefits went to people who lived in households that made $100,000 or more that year.”In the “full information” description, the homeowners and HMID undergo a subtle transformation. Homeowners are divided into economic classes and HMID is now a policy which favors “those who have the highest incomes”. In order for this transformation of description to occur, Mettler has to omit an important detail, that the amount a person borrows for a home affects the amount they pay in interest and, consequently, the amount they can deduct via HMID. In other words, the more a person borrows for a home purchase, the greater their tax deduction. By omitting this information, Mettler can depict HMID as a policy which favors the rich. In doing this, the testing group is now evaluating a policy which, through the omission of an important fact, can be depicted as unfair. This increases the likelihood of gaining responses that align with her bias. A better, and more complete, “full information” description would go as follows:“People who earn high incomes tend to purchase homes that cost more than homes purchased by persons who earn lower incomes. The amount paid in interest on home mortgages will be affected by a home’s cost. As a result, HMID deductions tend to be higher for people who pay more for their homes.”In this description, we can see how Mettler’s “full information” description is not “full” for it does not include information regarding the way HMID works. In “revealing” this omitted information the policy turns out to be fair - deductions are proportional to what a homeowner spends on their home. It’s a staggering irony that in making her case about the effects of “submerged” policies, Mettler submerges information in order to steer the respondents towards an answer favorable to her biases. This is yet another feature which corrupts the experiment used to substantiate the “The Submerged State’s” main idea.So let’s summarize what Suzanne Mettler has done in “The Submerged State”. She intentionally formed an experiment that uses a testing group different from the group used to form the hypothesis, and she does this to subtly smear conservatives and libertarians as “incognizant” and “confused”. She misrepresented information given to the testing group by omitting important facts. She misleads the reader by depicting the misrepresented information as “full information”. And, most importantly, manipulates the conditions of the experiment in order to obtain data which supports her biases.And so a question arises. Why does Mettler do this? The answer is that this is what the Left always does, misrepresent information as a means of promoting an agenda. This is dishonesty and it is the worst type for it is employed to shape policies that affect millions of people. As the expression goes, “social justice warriors always lie” (Hat tip to Vox Day).* An ever present mischaracterization used by the Left is the description of American polity as merely being a democracy. It is not. America is a democracy with limitations placed upon the power of national government for the purpose of protecting individual rights. These limitations exist in the form of our system of checks and balances, a Bill of Rights, separation of powers, the division of powers between the three branches, as well as dividing powers between state and national government. History has shown that governments formed exclusively as democracies eventually become tyrannies. The designers of American polity heeded this lesson of history and formed a national government with limited powers.Dr. Mettler characterizes American polity as democratic; she provides no mention of its limiting features. The most egregious example occurs in a single sentence in which she writes “…the fundamental purpose of American government as most citizens understand it: to be ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ or, in short, to be democratic.” This single sentence aptly summarizes a key idea in “The Submerged State” – that small government proponents are ignorant for they do not understand the purpose of their own government. In “the Submerged State”, Dr. Mettler never explains why small government proponents espouse this political philosophy. This allows for Dr. Mettler to subtly smear conservative and libertarian minded individuals as “seduced” by such ideas; that their embrace of such is not the result of being informed; that they lack agency in forming their ideas. Additionally, she reinforces this mischaracterization in offering a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” whereby she defines American polity as “…government of the people, by the people, for the people…” Unfortunately, Dr. Mettler omits important information from this quote by removing it from its original context. Here is full sentence from which the quote is extracted:“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."As you can see, the complete quote identifies American polity as possessing two elements, “freedom” and “government of the people, by the people, for the people…” Mettler’s omission is intentional and is used to misrepresent the purpose of American government and, ultimately, mislead the reader into accepting this characterization. As well as lending support to “The Submerged State’s” key idea that small government proponents are uninformed, it also serves to redact the core principle upon which American polity was established – that government exists to preserve individual rights.It is reasonable to argue that statists of all stripes and creeds, in their pursuit of ever expanding government power, rely heavily on idealized rhetoric about “the people”. This is an ever present meme in their rhetorical arsenal. Phrases like “power to the people”, “the people have spoken” and, more recently, their invocation of “importance of the popular vote” in the aftermath of the 2016 election are all ways by which the necessity of limited government powers as a safeguard to individual rights are delegitimized. Invoking “the people” is an appeal to emotion used by the statist in his/ her pursuit of a form of government in which the people are not in control but are merely wards and beneficiaries. This is the oldest trick in in the book, and it is employed as a means of deceiving people into accepting the belief that the interests of the State are prioritized over those of the individual. This is precisely what Karl Marx did when invoking the idea of “people’s ownership”. And like Marx, Mettler also pursues such an idea in order to address “income inequality”. As you can see, both invoke the sacred name of “the people” as a means of justifying the use of state power to manage “the people” in order to eliminate class differences. “The Submerged State” is merely a Marxist remix.

  • By Michael Burnam-fink on August 18, 2012

    It doesn't take a pundit to know that American politics are screwed up beyond measure. Congress is stuck in gridlock, the economy is stalled, elections are decided by culture war attack ads, and politics itself is derided as a pursuit for lying hustlers. Everybody has a a scapegoat, but Mettler actually has some evidence backing her theory.The key issue is not the government we see, but the government we don't, the vast tangle of tax breaks, public-private partnerships, and incentives that Mettler deems 'the submerged state'. The size of the submerged state is astounding, 8% of the GDP, or half the the size of the visible state (Medicare, social security, Medicaid, the military, servicing the debt, and the relatively minuscule discretionary funding that covers everything else the government does, from transportation to education to NASA and foreign aid).Mettler deploys economic and social statistics to show that for all it's expense, the submerged state is a failure on nearly every level. Whatever your politics, there is something to dislike about the submerged state. It represents a transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy, when most Americans abstractly support reducing inequality. It is a distortionary government influence on the workings of the free market, without even the relativity clarity of direct purchases or regulations. It often fails to accomplished stated policy goals of improving access to education, healthcare, or housing. It leads to civic disengagement, as those who benefit fail to see how the government has helped them, or how they can meaningfully impact politics through voting. And above all, it is corrupt, as it replaces broad public participation with the lobbying of narrowly constituted wealthy interests groups.This book is not perfect. Mettler is a liberal political scientist, and she has the biases of her profession: that conservatives are responsible for much of what's gone wrong with America over the past 30 years (disclosure: I agree), and that citizens would vote 'better' (I.e. for liberals) is they were just better informed. She is also not quite up to the task of sinking the submerged state. But these are minor quibbles. In the social sciences, I evaluate theories on their explanatory power, and Mettler has provided a powerful lens for seeing many divergent policies as part of a unitary whole.In a just and reasonable world, the 2012 Presidential campaign would about Mettler's book. Unfortunately, we're still living on Earth, and so it's going to be about Obama's socialism and Romney's dog.

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