Economic Adjustment and Political Transformation in Small States , by ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 2008 , ISBN 9780199208333 ); xvii + 277 pp. , £45 hb .
This book seeks to describe and explain the transformation of economic policy-making in Belgium and the Netherlands since the end of World War II. Transformation is seen at the same time as a by-product of the modernization process in the two states and as an important source of both necessary change and increased vulnerability. Consensus is now less characteristic of economic policy-making in the two countries than it used to be and conflict less unusual. The power of traditional elites has been challenged, and they are unlikely to regain the power enjoyed in the past, when Belgium and the Netherlands could be characterized as consociational democracies.
The central research question of the book is how to explain the change from consensual adjustment strategies in the 1950s and 1960s to more majoritarian strategies from the 1980s onwards. In order to answer this question, Erik Jones takes his inspiration from the now classic analysis by Katzenstein on small states in world markets and constructs a highly complex theoretical framework including the preferences of domestic groups, institutions and ideas and the interaction between the European and the national level. The result is not a coherent theory of small-state adaptation but rather a collection of loosely connected variables. The application of the framework results in a complex but highly readable and informative analysis. A more detailed analysis of the most recent decade of policy-making and a more comprehensive discussion of the implications of the analysis for other small states would have increased the relevance of the analysis even further.
The book is well-written, the explanation highly detailed, and Jones takes great care to provide the reader with a nuanced picture of the fundamental changes of economic policy-making in the two countries and their consequences. Pedagogical explanations of theoretical assumptions and concepts make the book readable and accessible to a wider audience than most research monographs. However, readers seeking a testable and parsimonious theoretical framework applicable to small states in general are likely to be disappointed. Instead the book details the many different and interwoven factors at different levels transforming economic policy-making in Belgium and the Netherlands over the past decades. For these reasons, the complexity of the theoretical framework and the empirical analysis is both the greatest asset of the book and its greatest limitation.
This is a valuable book, which deserves to be read by scholars and students interested in policy-making in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as those interested in the political development of small European states and the complex interplay between various domestic interest groups and institutions, and between the national and European levels of policy-making more generally.