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War and Welfare: Europe and the United States, 1945 to the Present

Author(s):Klausen, Jytte
Reviewer(s):Coates, David

Published by EH.NET (August 2001)

Jytte Klausen, War and Welfare: Europe and the United States, 1945 to the

Present. New York: Palgrave, 1998, v + 341 pp. $18.95 (paperback),

0-312-23883-5; $59.95 (hardback) 0-312-21033-7.

Reviewed for EH NET by David Coates, Department of Political Science, Wake

Forest University.

Jytte Klausen’s study of War and Welfare is a very fine piece of work.

It has an important contribution to make to at least three distinct but

intimately linked and important areas of contemporary research: the post-war

economic history of leading capitalist economies; the comparative study of

capitalist models; and the theoretical and methodological debates underpinning

our understandings of both. In fact the great strength of the book is the

regular and systematic way in which case material is used to inform

theoretical discussions, and theoretical insight deployed to illuminate the

development of particular cases. That very interplay — and the clarity with

which it is presented — means that War and Welfare will be accessible

to, and valuable for, students at different levels of intellectual

development. It will be accessible both to undergraduates needing a clear

introduction to the development and decline of planning in the post-war UK,

US, Sweden and West Germany; and to graduate students exploring the

determinants of the trajectories of different national post-war social

settlements. Given the complexity of the book’s purposes, it is perhaps not

surprising that, in this reviewer’s judgment at least, the totality is less

satisfactory than the individual components; but the critical remarks which

will eventually follow here are in no way meant to detract from the general

value of such an ambitious and carefully crafted piece of comparative


The case studies are particularly informative. Klausen traces the rise of (and

retreat from) the planning of the UK economy from 1939, focusing almost

exclusively on the often-lost (or quickly skipped over) story of the 1940s.

She traces the rise of the much more impressive post-war Swedish model, again

largely focusing on the pre-1956 story. The less potent performance of the SPD

in that same period is traced in Chapter 6; and the limits and character of

American “exceptionalism” in the 1940s receives full chapter treatment as

well. There are later vignettes on Austria and France. All the case study

chapters anchor themselves in the 1940s, with very tiny post-1950 conclusions

(that is a weakness to which we will come back). A number spread the net wider

than is often the case in discussions of state-labor-capital relations, to

take in the agricultural sector. That is a plus, enriching the UK-Swedish

comparison in particular — which is in many ways the key comparison within

the book. The case studies are well grounded in the relevant secondary

literature, and each can be profitably read alone by students needing a brief

but accurate description of major policy trends in the early post-war period.

The case studies sit between chapters that address more general questions, to

which the case study material is then offered as the base for the creation of

answers. Klausen is keen to explain the rise and fall of post-war planning,

using the term “welfare state” in that 1940s sense of state management of a

capitalist economy. Against those who would treat that planning initiative as

the post-war accommodation of mobilized labor movements, she is keen to

stress the continuities in policy that come out of the war. She argues

convincingly that the experience of state management during the war — in the

US no less than in the UK and Sweden — created a window of opportunity,

shifted public opinion to the left, and developed state capacities (and the

appetite of key state personnel) for state involvement in economic planning.

It is her thesis that “significant continuities existed between the warfare

and the welfare states” of the 1940s, but also that “postwar planning quickly

assumed forms quite different from those used during the war years” (p.1).

Klausen then uses that thesis to stress “institutional continuity and the

unprecedented state expansion caused by war mobilization as causal variables

for the permanent reordering of state-society relations that the postwar

welfare state represented” (p.2) and to show how the capacity to exploit that

window of opportunity turned on “the dynamics of party competition, the

flexibility of elites and the sociology of class” (p.11).

All this is presented as material that then illuminates even deeper issues in

contemporary comparative political economy: issues concerned with how far

trajectories of post-war development are internally generated or externally

constrained, and with how far state action is the product of group interests.

She is explicit on her understanding of the field, describing the dominant

debates between comparativists (pp. 19-20, 243-44). She is also clear on her

position within it, rejecting both the “primacy of business” and the “primacy

of labor” positions (p.20) while still recognizing “the capacities of groups

to influence policy” (p.166). It is at this point that the issue of the

adequacy of the case material to settle (or help resolve) issues of this kind

then looms into view. On that, I would say two things. One is that it is

extraordinarily difficult to link case material to general theoretical issues.

That linkage is never easy, and yet it is essential. The great strength of

this book is that it tries; and that at times, when for example contrasting UK

and Swedish postwar growth strategies (p.56), it is particularly insightful.

In fact the volume is better at exploring the rise of planning than it is at

explaining its subsequent demise; and if anything, spends much more time (and

by implication, gives much explanatory weight) to the role of unions as

barriers to state-orchestrated growth that it does to the role of business


These lacuna and emphases in the material deployed then pose problems for

Klausen’s rejection of the “primacy of business” argument. To be a full test

of that thesis, the case study data would need to cover the retreat from

planning as well as the move towards it; and yet each chapter’s coverage of

the last four decades of the post-war period is far too brief to achieve that

coverage. There is just a huge disproportionality in the volume between the

detailed coverage of one decade — the one vital to show war-time continuity

– and the breathless sweep through the next four decades — those vital to an

understanding of the state’s retreat from any kind of systematic economic

planning. And where the case study is most sensitive to the failure of

planning — in the UK case — the scope of the material mobilized is too

narrow to dialogue adequately with those who would put greater weight on

class factors in the post-war story than Klausen wishes to do. In the end the

UK’s failure of planning is linked to electoral and trade union-party

variables (p.92): to immediately “political” factors that are not set into any

systematic analysis of employer attitudes and interests (though those are

mentioned) or into the differential location of particular national

capitalisms in the global system, a positioning which would enable Klausen to

explore more structuralist explanations of the cultural variables she then

chooses to discount (p. 94). A wider lens might not have led her to different

conclusions; but that wider lens is still required. Which suggests that this

volume might profitably be followed by a companion one, exploring the retreat

from planning with the care that this one devotes to planning’s rise, and one

that focuses on the nature, determinants and impact of employers’ interests in

the various trajectories of the post-war welfare state whose origin this book

so carefully illuminates. For without that volume we can recognize the

legitimacy of the wider theoretical position Klausen adopts here without

necessarily being persuaded by her evidence that she is correct.

David Coates is the Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies at Wake

Forest University. He is the author of, among others, The Question of UK

Decline, London, Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1994; and Models of Capitalism:

Growth and Stagnation in the Modern Era, Cambridge UK, Polity Press, 2000.

Subject(s):Economic Planning and Policy
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII