Jonas Pontusson: Inequality and Prosperity: Social Europe vs. Liberal America.

Author:Agartan, Kaan
Position:Book review

Jonas Pontusson

Inequality and Prosperity: Social Europe vs. Liberal America

Cornell University Press, 2005, 242 pp.

ISBN: 0-8014-8970-9 (pbk) $19-95

ISBN: 0-8014-4351-0 (hbk) $52.50

Social issues related to the welfare of society have always attracted attention, not only from the academic world but also from policy circles, due to their direct impact on the livelihoods of individuals. For decades, social scientists and policy experts have been crafting typologies based on various labour market models and welfare provision systems in different parts of the world. In this endeavour, they have especially focused their attention on the advanced economies of Europe and the USA. In longstanding debates on the basic characteristics of these different welfare systems, analysts have reflected not only on the strengths and weaknesses of each model, but also on their prospective trajectories. What, then, does Pontusson's Inequality and Prosperity add to the mature discussion on European and us welfare systems that has already produced a massive body of literature on the issue?

Following an analytical review of the existing literature that specialises in 'varieties of capitalism', Pontusson lays out the basic characteristics of what he terms Nordic and continental European social market economies (SMES) on the one hand, and liberal market economies (LMES) on the other, by distinguishing the ways in which various welfare benefits are provided and dispersed. In order to do so, he prefers an approach that undertakes a comparative analysis of several OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, and organises his discussion around his own typology of market economies. Among the major areas explored in the book are labour-market dynamics and income distribution, employment performance, macroeconomic management and wage bargaining, redistribution and economic growth, and directions for progressive reform for the welfare systems of social market economies.

The most striking theme in the book is Pontusson's opposition to the notion of an inevitable convergence towards the market-liberal version of welfare provision. He is strongly of the opinion that European social market economies can survive under the less favourable environment for employment relations created by the forces of globalisation. In the effort to prove his claim he provides convincing evidence that the main tenets of the market-liberal discourse--that the...

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