The Politics of Welfare State Reform in Continental Europe: Modernization in Hard Times

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The Politics of Welfare State Reform in Continental Europe: Modernization in Hard Times
By Silja Häusermann
Cambridge University Press, 2010
296 pp. $29.99
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Conventional wisdom, among both political commentators and scholars, views European welfare systems as overgenerous given Europe's demographic and fiscal pressures yet unreformable due to political pressure from voters. In fact, over the past decade, France, Germany, and other western European countries have substantially reformed their labor markets, unemployment benefits, family policies, welfare systems, and pension schemes -- the last of which is the subject of this book. Why would the French and the Germans not block any reduction in existing privileges, just as Americans stymie Social Security reform? Häusermann shows that welfare can be reformed by exploiting cross-cutting alliances among social groups in an increasingly complex labor market. Governments can carefully balance cutbacks with expansions in benefits, such as child-care assistance, for other constituencies. Successful reform coalitions mobilize outsiders against insiders, more skilled against less skilled workers, professionals against wageworkers, women against men, and service-sector workers against industrial workers. This book is not easy reading, but it is essential for those interested in the future of the welfare state, Europe's greatest modern political achievement.