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Welfare and Capitalism in Postwar Japan: Party, Bureaucracy, and Business (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics)

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0521856935
ISBN-10: 0521856930
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Editorial Reviews


"This outstanding book deserves the attention of a wide audience. By locating the Japanese welfare state into a comparative framework on the basis of strong theory and extensive empirical work, Estevez-Abe reshapes the way we discuss social programs, spending, equality and distribution, interest groups, the bureaucracy, political institutions, elections, political parties, and the careers of politicians. She argues well and convincingly. She dares make a prediction: because of institutional changes in the Japanese system, the Japanese welfare system will come to resemble that of the UK. Whether they agree or not, her argumentation compels the attention of everyone doing comparative politics."
-Peter Gourevitch, University of California, San Diego

"Research on the Asian cases is now providing new insights into the political logic of the welfare state. In this powerful revisionist account of Japan, Margarita Estevez-Abe explains how relatively modest levels of social spending have nonetheless contributed to a relatively equal distribution of income and extensive protection against market risks. She does this by focusing on a variety of state interventions not typically considered social policy instruments, from rural public works programs to state-managed competition in particular markets. Moreover, she nests this discussion of market institutions and the varieties of capitalism in a consideration of Japan's formal political institutions as well. This is a first-rate piece of political economy that will have important implications across the welfare state literature."
-Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego

"In this subtle and powerful book, Estevez-Abe solves what for many social scientists is a profound mystery about Japan by showing how Japan's recent economic collapse stems from the same policies that generated the earlier rapid growth that made Japan famous. The Japanese government gave big businesses support and leeway to invest and grow, but this very protection stifled innovation. This is far more than a 'Japan book.' Estevez-Abe shows how electoral competition guided the LDP's policy mix and explains which firms got government backing, with what trade-offs for economic performance and wealth distribution."
-Frances Rosenbluth, Yale University

"An amazing book. It offers an original characterization of the political economy of the Japanese welfare state, a detailed thematic story of social policy decision making over decades, and an audacious proposition that electoral systems explain (almost) everything. I have some quibbles with all three arguments and I certainly hope the prediction that the Japanese welfare state will soon look like the British welfare state will not come true, but I know that Japanologists and comparativists with any interest in social policy, economics, and politics will have to take this formidable book into account."
-John Campbell, University of Michigan

Book Description

Estevez-Abe traces Japan's highly egalitarian form of capitalism to the electoral strategies of its politicians. She analyzes how the current electoral system renders obsolete the old form of welfare capitalism creating a more market-driven society with less equality.
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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics
  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521856930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521856935
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,066,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Unless you're a policy wonk, you probably won't exactly find this a fun book. But it is a remarkably thorough discussion of Japan's postwar political institutions, particularly as they relate to social welfare programs. It's also one of the few available English-language books about Japanese politics that's relatively current (through 2008, the most recent Fukuda administration).

One of the author's (MEA's) goals is to challenge the usual tendency to treat Scandinavian countries as the paradigmatic welfare states. She emphasizes that although Japanese spending on socal welfare programs is below that in most OECD countries by the usual measures, Japan's use of "functional equivalents" for welfare programs (e.g., public works projects instead of unemployment benefits) actually makes it more socialistic than Sweden.

But since capitalism (in its "varieties of capitalism" academic garb) takes center-stage only in one chapter, a better title for the book might have been "Welfare and Political Institutions in Postwar Japan". MEA's main thesis is that a country's social welfare programs are more or less determined by three structural parameters in its legislature: (i) single-member districts (SMD) vs. multiple member districts (MMD), (ii) majority vs. minority/coalition government, and (iii) weak party (= strong individual member) vs. strong party. For example, it's more difficult for the legislature to enact taxes when members are elected from SMDs and the dominant party has a majority, since it's easier for voters to identify the ruling party as the culprit for the tax hike, and for the party to lose the election in a district next time around (in an MMD, it's less likely that all of the party's candidates will lose).
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