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November 2014 Vol. 52 No. 3

Cambridge University Press

The following review appeared in the November 2014 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Social & Behavioral Sciences
Political Science - Comparative Politics

2013-26795 CIP
Kersbergen, Kees van. Comparative welfare state politics: development, opportunities, and reform, by Kees van Kersbergen and Barbara Vis. Cambridge, 2013. 245p bibl index ISBN 9781107005631, $80.00; ISBN 9780521183710 pbk, $29.99.

This fine book tackles sweeping questions about welfare states in industrialized democracies, such as why these welfare states emerged, how they differ, what they do, and why their politicians pursue politically risky reforms.  Kersbergen (Aarhus Univ., Denmark) and Vis (VU Univ., Amsterdam) combine their expertise in comparative welfare policy and decision theory, respectively, to address these questions systematically.  Building on such studies as Gosta Esping-Andersen's The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (1990), the authors show that social security programs have endured because they constantly have been changed and adapted to pressures driven by globalization, structural changes in domestic labor markets, and budget crises.  The authors outline an "open functional" approach to explaining these ongoing adjustments in the welfare state.  In this approach, policy makers' ideas help alter the path of welfare state development by redefining problems and reframing solutions.  Opportunities to successfully change welfare state choices are especially rich when it appears that all future scenarios will entail more losses than gains.  The book, which includes an extensive bibliography of comparative welfare state research, would substantially benefit research libraries and graduate and upper-level undergraduates interested in political economy and the politics of social welfare.

--D. B. Robertson, University of Missouri--St. Louis

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections.