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What is meant by the concept of a submerged state? How does it impact public support for government intervention?

The concept of the submerged state refers to a set of indirect government subsidies whose size and beneficiaries, and indeed their very existence, are largely invisible to the public. An example of the submerged state would be bank-based student lending subsidized by the government. The submerged state has a negative impact on public support for government intervention as it tends to reduce citizens' trust in government.

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The concept of the submerged state has been articulated most clearly in the work of the American political scientist Suzanne Mettler. She defines the submerged state as a set of indirect subsidies whose very nature and existence are largely unknown to the public. One example given by Mettler is the provision of government subsidy to bank-based student lending. Most citizens are blissfully unaware of the existence of such subsidies, let alone their actual dollar amount.

And yet many citizens do actually avail themselves of subsidies, such as student loans and child tax care credits. But when they’re asked in opinion polls whether they’ve ever used a government social program, they say that they haven’t. Even allowing for reluctance among respondents to admit being in receipt of government money, these findings would appear to support Mettler’s contentions about the submerged nature of much of government spending.

The most negative consequence of the submerged state is that it reduces the ability of citizens to make informed choices about government, thus deepening the already wide chasm that exists between institutions of government and the people they’re supposed to serve.

But even when the concept of the submerged state is fully understood, the impact still remains negative, as it damages public trust in government. On the whole, people want government to be transparent, especially when it comes to spending taxpayers’ dollars. Yet the submerged state, of its very nature, is anything but transparent, and this induces resentment, passivity, and destructive cynicism among citizens, all of which are very damaging to the system of American democracy.

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