In This Review

Making Social Spending Work
Making Social Spending Work
By Peter H. Lindert
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 434 pp

Lindert has produced a worthy successor to his landmark book Growing Public, which used historical evidence to describe the rise of the welfare state. Whereas that earlier book focused on the North Atlantic economies, this one paints on a global canvas. Lindert again debunks the view that government spending on social services tends to slow economic growth. He shows that social programs help equalize incomes, even in countries such as the United States, where their scope is relatively limited. But he also points to worrisome trends: too many countries invest too little in high-return social programs, such as education for the young, and spend too much on pensions for the politically influential elderly. The author concludes by exploring whether immigration tensions will further fray social safety nets and whether increases in life expectancy will threaten the solvency of public pensions or crowd out other valuable forms of social spending—and, if so, how social programs might be redesigned to meet these risks.