HOW DIFFERENT, then, is American politics? The overall argument of this book is that while American politics is different, it is not unique. The issues, trends, and problems evident in American politics are by and large familiar to citizens of other modern democracies. Indeed, American politics has more in common with the politics of several other advanced industrialized democracies today than with American politics in the past. The share of national income claimed by the state, for example, while below the OECD average, is far closer to that average today than to the share of gross domestic product claimed by the American state in the nineteenth century. Many topics on the American political agenda in the 1990s--the future of the welfare state, taxation, health care, the state of the economy--would be familiar not only to voters in Britain but to voters in most advanced democracies. The sharing of not only ideas but political tactics between British Conservatives and Republicans, (New) Labour under Tony Blair and (New) Democrats under Bill Clinton showed an awareness that there were indeed important similarities in the problems, issues, and politically viable solutions on offer in the two countries.
Of course differences remain, and barriers to convergence are significant. As path dependency perspectives have stressed, choices made yesterday become impediments to convergence today. The enormous number and range of interests with a stake in the current system of health care make it ever less likely that the United States will adopt a system of national health insurance along European lines. Yet the fact remains that although American political institutions might baffle the