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Collectivism after World War II


Published: March 25, 2021

Collectivist sentiment was popular after World War II. The role and power of the US government continued to grow dramatically until the 1980s, when intellectual opinions shifted in response to this expansion. As a result, Ronald Reagan was able to capitalize on the ideological shift and limit the role of the government.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is “big government?”
  2. Is the government spending the taxpayers’ money efficiently?

Additional Resources

  • In “Friedman on Capitalism and Freedom,” Russ Roberts talks to Milton Friedman about the radical ideas he put forward almost 50 years ago in Capitalism and Freedom. Available here.
  • Watch “How to Control Big Government,” by Milton Friedman. Available here.
View Transcript

In 1945, 1950, at the end of the war, intellectual opinion was almost wholly collectivist. 

The role of government at that time was such smaller than it has since become and from 1945 on to 1980, what you had was galloping socialism. 

Government took over more and more control. 

Government spending went from about 20 percent of national income—government federal, state and local—to about 40 percent of national income until Reagan came along. 

But Reagan was able to do what he did because in that 20-year period, intellectual opinion had changed. 

You now could see what the government did and people didn’t particularly like what the government did. 

I think maybe Capitalism and Freedom added a little of that but I think experience was much more responsible.