Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe

In This Review

Postcommunist Welfare States: Reform Politics in Russia and Eastern Europe

By Linda J. Cook
Cornell University Press, 2007
288 pp. $39.95
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The Soviet Union and its Eastern European dominions were, above all, vast welfare states -- ungainly, economically inefficient providers of extensive social benefits. Cook explores what happened to them after their demise by situating them in the broader global trend toward downsizing and rationalizing welfare systems. She borrows chiefly from the literature suggesting politics determines where economic logic ultimately leads. In the case of the five welfare states she examines -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Hungary, and Belarus -- how extensive and efficient reform was depended on how cohesive, determined, and unchallenged reformers were, how weak "veto" players were, and how strong and well organized societal interests were. The form these factors took produced considerable but shoddy liberalization in Russia, extensive but harsh liberalization in Kazakhstan, moderate and more efficient liberalization in Poland and Hungary, and little or no liberalization in Belarus. Cook's book is a commendable contribution on a crucial issue for these countries.