Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

Synopsis

Conventional wisdom argues that welfare state builders in the US and Sweden in the 1930s took their cues from labor and labor movements. Swenson makes the startling argument that pragmatic social reformers looked for support not only from below but also from above, taking into account capitalist interests and preferences. Juxtaposing two widely recognized extremes of welfare, the US and Sweden, Swenson shows that employer interests played a role in welfare state development in both countries.

Excerpt

In the politics of work and welfare in capitalist democracies, capitalists invariably play a conservative role according to most historical, sociological, and political analysis. Projecting onto them a cold disinterest in almost everything except market action for their exclusive material gain, this scholarly consensus, I believe, underestimates capitalists' contributions toward the passage of egalitarian and protective social reform. By attributing the many reforms that take place exclusively to other political forces, it also tends to underestimate the power of capitalists in capitalist society.

These errors are probably a consequence in part of the politics of those who study labor and social policy. For most of them, capitalism is something we probably have to live with, and perhaps even should live with, but not without trying to modify and improve it. Thus, it stands to reason, if capitalism needs reform, then capitalists—with perhaps a few politically irrelevant exceptions—are the main obstacle. When reform is imposed, they accept it, supposedly, only in begrudging recognition of a shift in the balance of power against them.

While I also hold strong progressive sentiments for reform, I have come to disagree with the idea of capitalists as invariant and unregenerate opponents. This book explains why. It looks in depth at capitalists' interests in the shaping of labor markets and social policy making over the course of a century in the United States and Sweden. Within the broad category of economically advanced capitalist democracies, these two countries differ radically in the character of their industrial relations systems and social policy regimes. Capitalists' interests there have also differed in the same measure. My analysis of these variations across the countries, and over time within them, shows that the political weakness of Swedish capital gives a less than persuasive explanation for the extraordinary successes of the social democratic labor movement relative . . .

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