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University of California Press
Rich Democracies: Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance / Edition 1

Rich Democracies: Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance / Edition 1

by Harold L. Wilensky


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In this landmark work, the culmination of 30 years of systematic, comprehensive comparison of 19 rich democracies, Wilensky answers two basic questions: (1) What is distinctly modern about modern societies—in what ways are they becoming alike? (2) How do variations in types of political economy shape system performance? He specifies similarities and differences in the structure and interplay of government, political parties, the mass media, industry, labor, professions, agriculture, churches, and voluntary associations. He then demonstrates how differences in bargaining arrangements among these groups lead to contrasting policy profiles and patterns of taxing and spending, which in turn explain a large number of outcomes: economic performance, political legitimacy, equality, job security, safety and risk, real health, the reduction of poverty and environmental threats, and the effectiveness and fairness of regulatory regimes.

Drawing on quantitative data and case studies covering the last 50 years and more than 400 interviews he conducted with top decision-makers and advisors, Wilensky provides a richly detailed account of the common social, economic, and labor problems modern governments confront and their contrasting styles of conflict resolution. The result is new light on the likely paths of development of rich democracies as they become richer. Assessing alternative theories, Wilensky offers a powerful critique of such images of modern society as "post-industrial" or "high-tech," "the information age" or the alleged dominance of "globalization."

Because he systematically compares all of the rich democracies with at least three million population, Wilensky can specify what is truly exceptional about the United States, what it shares with Britain and Britain abroad (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and what it shares with all or almost all of the West European democracies, Israel, and Japan. He gives careful attention to which successful social and labor policies are transferable across nations and which are not.

Rich Democracies will interest both scholars and practitioners. It combines the perspectives of political economy (the interplay of markets and politics) and political sociology (the social bases of politics). It will be especially useful in courses on comparative political economy, comparative politics, European politics, public policy, political sociology, the welfare state, American government, advanced industrial societies, and industrial relations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520232792
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 07/01/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 922
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.95(d)

About the Author

Harold L. Wilensky is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the author or co-author of twelve previous books, including
Industrial Society and Social Welfare
(1958, 1965); Organizational
Intelligence: Knowledge and Policy in Government and
(1967); The Welfare State and Equality (California, 1975); Democratic Corporatism and Policy Linkages (1987); and
Intellectuals in Labor Unions
(1956). Before joining the University of California in 1963 he taught at the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. in sociology.

Read an Excerpt

Rich Democracies

Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance
By Harold L. Wilensky

University of California

Copyright © 2002 Harold L. Wilensky
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23279-8

Chapter One


One should really never say "the state does this or that." It is always important to recognize who or whose interest it is that sets the machine of the state in motion and speaks through it. - Joseph Schumpeter (1918)

This book is about consensus and conflict, a central theoretical issue in the social sciences and a problem of mounting importance in all modern democracies. It deals with what governments do to bring together diverse interests and accommodate clashing values - the Madisonian problem of containing factional war, the Durkheimian problem of overcoming threats to social integration. Plainly the 19 rich democracies discussed here as they cope with the problems of aggregating interests and resolving conflict, differ greatly in their labor relations and in the interplay of politics, markets, and the nonprofit sector. They differ in the shape of their welfare states, in their patterns of taxing and spending, in the clusters of public policies they pursue and their effectiveness in implementing policies. Most important, they differ greatly in system outputs - what all the taxing and spending, all the policy choices mean for the wellbeing of their people. Yet, despite the obvious differences among rich democracies in social structure, culture, politics, and policy, despite their separate paths of development in the 20th century, there are several areas of convergence.

My aim is to specify these differences and similarities and explore diverse national responses to common social and economic problems. I attempt to synthesize three complementary theories I have found useful in explaining convergence and divergence among the currently rich democracies. My strategy is to play convergence theory (modernization theory, theories of advanced industrialism) - the idea that as rich democracies became richer they became more alike in social structure, culture, and politics - against a theory of democratic corporatism and a theory of mass society, useful in explaining persistent differences. Part I, "Paths of Development of Rich Democracies," covers this ground and adds a critique of "post-industrialism," a perspective I find of limited use. Evidence for and against convergence theory is examined in chapter 1, which emphasizes nine areas: changes in family structure and function and associated political demands; the push for equality among minority groups; the rise of mass higher education; the increasing dominance of the media of mass communication and entertainment; the roles and influence of experts and intellectuals; the changing organization, schedules, and hours of work; changes in social stratification and mobility; the growth of the welfare state; and changes in political systems. These are what make modern society modern.

The second theory (chapter 2) specifies types of political economy - democratic corporatism, corporatism-without-labor, and decentralized and fragmented systems. Here the emphasis is on the structure and interaction of government, electoral systems, political parties, and major interest groups (especially labor, employers, professions, churches, farmers) and what they do to promote or diminish consensus. I generate these types by combining the cumulative power of mass-based parties, mainly Left and Catholic, historically of great significance, with national bargaining arrangements. The scheme is spelled out in Figure 2.1, with a list of policies and real welfare outputs it predicts.

The third theory, "mass society," is the inverse of theories of democratic corporatism. Instead of structures conducive to consensus, this theory accents the breakdown or erosion of these structures as threats to democracy, or social order, or both. From Tocqueville to Karl Mannheim (1940), Franz Neuman (1942), Hannah Arendt (1951), and other refugees from the Nazis, these scholars tackled two problems. The first is the debilitation of culture-bearing elites (and the core values they sustain) - lawyers who subvert the law, professors and media managers without standards, politicians with no constraint in their campaigns, business executives busy feathering their own nests. The second problem is the atrophy of such primary groups as the family and neighborhood, and the erosion of such self-governing associations as unions and churches, which result in the rising power of the mass media and the proliferation of political demagogues and extremist movements. From the 1960s to the 1980s theories of the mass society went out of fashion. In the past couple of decades, however, they have been revived in political science and sociology under different labels - party decomposition, the erosion of civil society or civic engagement, the proliferation of protest movements, overloaded government, crises of legitimacy, and of course, discussion of the impact of the mass media and the cult of celebrity in politics and culture. Chapter 3 covers this ground, assessing evidence on social participation rates and trends and the organization and effects of the media. Throughout the book, I show that the half-dozen most fragmented and decentralized political economies are most vulnerable to mass society tendencies but that the theory cannot be generalized; it applies least well to other types of political economy.

Because the welfare state is at the center of conflict about the proper role and size of government, the five chapters of Part II ("The Welfare State and Social Policy") explain the patterns of taxing and spending and social policies comprising the welfare state. It specifies the ways in which the rich democracies converge and analyzes the structural and ideological sources of differences among them. It shows how industrialization and its demographic and organizational correlates explain the universal increase and some convergence in the level of taxing and spending. It also shows that the types of political economy developed in chapter 2 account for remaining national differences in the current level of spending, sector-spending emphasis, tax structures, the size and efficiency of bureaucracies that deliver cash and services, and specific social policies (e.g. universalistic family policies vs. means-testing and a consequent welfare mess). Chapter 10 on tax-welfare backlash discusses the political effects of all these differences.

Part III ("System Outputs") continues to play convergence theory against types of political economy. It is an analysis of system performance. It shows how variation in types of taxes, types of spending, and policy packages shape a large number of outcomes: economic performance, equality, poverty, job security, safety and risk, real health, the environment, the effectiveness and fairness of regulatory regimes, and political legitimacy. Some of these have conventional measures. I have developed my own where they do not. For instance, political legitimacy is measured by the vitality of political parties (chapter 11) and the capacity of government to collect taxes to pay for the demands of modern voters without triggering paralyzing protest (chapter 10). In order to show national differences in risk and safety I develop a measure of mayhem (chapter 14).

Chapter 17 addresses the objection that my emphasis on the similarities and differences among national institutions as sources of system performance is outdated because of "globalization," that all-purpose cause of all our ills and opportunities. Unpacking the concept, I discuss the flow of capital and labor across national boundaries, the rise of multinational corporations, the alleged deregulation of the labor market, and the role of central banks. I conclude that of these five dimensions of globalization, only the rapidly increasing autonomy and power of central banks is a major threat to labor standards, job security, stable economic performance, and the welfare state.

Any good theory of social change should address five questions. What is changing? How much? How fast? In what direction? What are the engines driving change? What is too often vague or absent in much discussion of change in modern society is answers to the first question: exactly what technologies, social structures, values and beliefs, and patterns of political behavior are changing? Just as sociology has neglected a basic task for students of group life - a taxonomy of types of social groups that is useful for explaining the behavior of groups (Wilensky, 1961b) - so political science needs a more effective mapping of types of interest groups, political parties, nation-states, and bureaucracies that comprise the polity. In the past 15 or 20 years, as they revive an older tradition in political science, students of comparative politics have made progress in tackling this challenging task of explaining what is changing; I hope that this book furthers that progress. Throughout I avoid vague discussion of "the state" or "society;" instead I examine the components of these grand abstractions that are relevant for our understanding of similarities or differences among the rich democracies. The entire book is an attempt to specify the institutions - executive, legislative, judicial, military - that comprise the state and the groups and relationships that comprise society. Although I try to answer all five of the social-change questions, my main effort is to delineate major structures that help enhance our understanding of social, economic, and political outcomes - system performance. When I hear about the internal strains within particular countries - "democratic corporatism in Sweden is collapsing," "American democracy is becoming polarized and paralyzed," "the Japanese model is no longer economically viable" - I ask, "system strain, erosion, collapse of what, compared to what, in what specific policy areas?" More often than not this focus leads me to observe much continuity between generations and to greet the word "new" with skepticism. Most of the structures this book delineates are highly institutionalized, that is, publicly-recognized and sanctioned in contracts, law, and custom. They persist over successive generations, adapting to changing circumstances but retaining their essential character.

In choosing the 19 countries to be studied I decided on the universe of democracies that have three million or more population (hence some degree of complexity) and are in the upper sixth of countries ranked by per capita GNP in the mid-1960s (very rich). The rich, as they say, are very different from the poor; they have more money. Average income per capita in our rich democracies is about 30 times higher than the average in the poorest countries. The size criterion excludes tiny countries (Iceland, Luxembourg) but includes New Zealand with more than 3 million. In 1966, Israel and Ireland were the poorest of the 19 rich democracies. It is a common mistake in both the press and social-science research to lump Greece, Portugal, Spain and Turkey together with these nineteen as "OECD countries" and use averages that obscure the great range of development and behavior within the category. In 1990, even after much catch-up, all but Spain were much poorer and had a much larger percentage of the labor force in agriculture than any of the 19 modern affluent democracies. For studying similarities and differences among similarly rich democracies, the 19 are the most appropriate universe. And for analysis of system performance the universe yields much more valid generalizations than any subset. For instance, if you conclude that lavish spending on the welfare state is a drag on postwar economic performance on the basis of a comparison of Italy and Denmark with Japan and Switzerland, you have selected the four deviant cases: For most of the postwar period Italy and Denmark are big spenders with poor performance, the other two are lean spenders with good performance. The subset thus obscures the central tendency, a positive correlation for all 19 rich democracies before 1974 and a mixed picture thereafter (big spenders after the two oil shocks retained an edge in growth and did no worse in controlling inflation and unemployment.) (See chapter 12.) Similarly, if you explore the impact of public-sector education and health spending per capita on real health outputs in 1980 by comparing Japan, a lean spender with excellent health, and West Germany, an above-average spender with poor health, you would conclude that spending is bad for your health. But these are the two most clearly deviant cases. Bringing all 19 rich democracies to view, we find that the opposite is true (see chapter 16, Table 16.1). So the first advantage of the universe is that we know when we encounter an exceptional case and can explore its peculiarities.

A second great advantage of studying the universe of rich democracies is that we can uncover similarities among subgroups that are obscured by 2 or 3 or 4 country comparisons. In several parts of my analysis, I compare the U.S. and the UK and note many structural differences that account for some specific difference in policy or performance. Britain, unlike the U.S., has a parliamentary system with party discipline, a more centralized government, and more influential cabinet ministers and higher civil servants. In chapter 16 on the environment these differences make a difference. Similarly, modest structural differences between Canada and the U.S. help us understand why Canada got national health insurance while the U.S., despite many tries, has failed (chapter 17). But these differences turn out to be less than meets the eye. Comparing all 19 countries and considering a wider range of issues and patterns of behavior, Canada, the U.S., and the UK are much closer to one another than to the corporatist democracies of Europe or to the similar systems of Japan and France. In their structures, policies, and performance they are members of a class of the most fragmented and decentralized political economies.

A third advantage of the 19-country analysis is close to my heart. I have spent half a century trying to overcome my American parochialism. Early in my teaching and research and as a guest abroad I became convinced that only through systematic comparison could I understand the United States. In my courses on modern society, comparative political economy, and comparative public policy I became a missionary for this idea - preaching to students of American government and politics that they cannot talk about American exceptionalism without making the necessary comparisons. The last chapter of this book attempts to summarize what is truly exceptional about the U.S., what it shares with Britain and Britain abroad (Canada, Australia, New Zealand), and what it shares with all or almost all rich democracies.


Excerpted from Rich Democracies by Harold L. Wilensky Copyright © 2002 by Harold L. Wilensky . Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Appendices
Preface and Acknowledgments

CHAPTER 1 Convergence Theory
CHAPTER 2 Types of Political Economy
CHAPTER 3 Mass Society, Participation, and the Mass Media
CHAPTER 4 Theories of the Postindustrial Society

CHAPTER 5 The Welfare State: Convergence and Divergence
CHAPTER 6 Sector Spending and Program Emphasis
CHAPTER 7 Types of Political Economy, Party Ideology, and Family Policy: Contrasting Government Responses to a Common Problem
CHAPTER 8 The American Welfare Mess in Comparative Perspective
CHAPTER 9 Bureaucratic Efficiency and Bloat

CHAPTER 10 Tax-Welfare Backlash: How to Tax, Spend, and Yet Keep Cool
CHAPTER 11 Are Political Parties Declining? An Analysis of National Variation in Dealignment
CHAPTER 12 Types of Political Economy, Spending, Taxing, and Economic Performance
CHAPTER 13 The Great American Job Machine in Comparative Perspective
CHAPTER 14 Risk and Safety: American Mayhem in Comparative Perspective
CHAPTER 15 Types of Political Economy, Regulatory Regimes, and the Environment
CHAPTER 16 Health Performance: Affluence, Political Economy, and Public Policy as Sources of Real Health
CHAPTER 17 Globalization: Does It Subvert Labor Standards, the Welfare State, and Job Security?
CHAPTER 18 American Exceptionalism and Policy Implications


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