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Can America adopt a Scandinavian-style social safety net?

Kenworthy (Political Science and Sociology/Univ. of Arizona; Progress for the Poor, 2013, etc.) believes that the cure for America's ills is more social democracy, which he defines as "a commitment to extensive use of government policy to promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all." To this end, the author sets out a list of a dozen or so policies he considers desirable, including wage insurance, universal health care and government as employer of last resort, which he would pay for with greatly increased taxation, including a value added tax. Kenworthy’s purpose is not to argue for the desirability of social democratic policies. He assumes that the trajectory of American government is inevitably and appropriately toward more social services and disposes of objections that big government may result in corruption, incompetence or excessive restrictions on liberty. The author focuses almost exclusively on economic considerations. Using a plethora of graphs and charts, he demonstrates that other countries, particularly in Scandinavia, have managed to balance high levels of government taxation and services with healthy economies, and he argues that America could do the same. His intent is to help "shape the timing, scope and nature of future policy” by analyzing which approaches are most likely to work based on multinational economic statistics. The heart of the book is a thoughtful, detailed exploration of such issues as whether a higher minimum wage is preferable to increased earned income tax credits and the relative efficacy of various services and income transfer programs. Even so, some of Kenworthy’s observations are questionable; for example, he contends that the U.S. economy could support higher levels of government taxing and spending without considering that we borrow much of the cost for current levels of social services.

Recommended for policy wonks that accept the author’s belief in the inevitable expansion of government social spending.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-19-932251-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2013


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