In This Review

Rich Democracies: Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance
Rich Democracies: Political Economy, Public Policy, and Performance
By Harold L. Wilensky
University of California Press, 2002, 941 pp

This massive volume by one of America's leading political scholars distills 30 years of research on advanced democracies. Wilensky finds that modernization is making the rich democracies more alike -- a likeness reflected in declining birth rates, increasing labor-force participation by women, enhanced equality of minority groups, the spread of higher education, the growing role of intellectuals and technocrats, and advancements in social protections. But Wilensky also discovers that the political and economic structures in these countries are remarkably resistant to change, a fact that shapes distinctive approaches to governance. Some countries, such as France and Germany, are corporatist, with highly institutionalized relations among interest groups. Others, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, exhibit more fragmented and decentralized systems. The United States offers an extreme case of civic disengagement, which creates a political vacuum where mass media and parochial interest groups flourish. Wilensky finds that modern democracies differ greatly in their capacity to govern, but he gives the edge to corporatist countries in managing economic crises, providing job security, and fostering social equality. A valuable resource for debates on markets, society, and the state.