Statecraft and Liberal Reform in Advanced Democracies
Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, 189 pp.
The study of politics in the United States now follows two paths. One apes economics, seeking to climb the ladder of higher math to theories of rational choice and scientific prestige. The other path--called American Political Development (APD)--looks to history to explain the growth of the American state. The devotees of APD seek to understand rather than evaluate the emerging American state, but their stories sometimes appear to justify administrative expertise and other aspects of their subject. Until recently APD scholars paid little attention to the liberalizing reforms enacted in the United States and other developed nations after 1980. Nils Karlson offers an admirable effort to understand die politics and outcomes of those reforms.
Karlson is suited to the job. He served as founding president and CEO of the Ratio Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. He was trained as an economist and political scientist at George Mason University and Uppsala University, respectively. Readers will be pleased to learn Karlson is also a board member of die Mont Pelerin Society. His interdisciplinary background should be (but is not) a starting point for studying state and political development. Academics laud interdisciplinary research, but academic careers prosper through specialization. To the benefit of his work, Karlson has done more than talk the interdisciplinary talk. He has also been involved in the practical matter of the politics of policy reform. Karlson has heard what Max Weber called die Beriif der Politik (the calling to politics/policy). Our author, in short, has an exemplary background for his task.
Karlson's subject is the modern welfare state, that combination of market regulation and monetary redistribution that came to mark all developed nations. In 1965 most saw the welfare state as a remarkable success, a friend to both efficiency and equality and a teacher of improved tastes among the governed (according to Lyndon Johnson's speech announcing the Great Society). By 1980, at the latest, the welfare state was troubled if not in crisis even in Sweden, the enduring model of market egalitarianism.
But reforms to the welfare state were hard. Karlson provides a lucid inventory of the barriers to reforming the welfare state, all of which will be familiar to public-choice economists. Public choice tends toward pessimism about...