Book Review: Governing Social Risks in Post-Crisis Europe by Colin Crouch.

Author:Michelsen, Niall
Position:Book review

Crouch, Colin. Governing Social Risks in Post-Crisis Europe. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2015. viii + 306 pages. Hardcover, $135.00.

Governing Social Risks in Post-Crisis Europe is the latest in a lengthy list of books on the topic of industrial relations by the eminent sociologist Colin Crouch. In this work, Crouch, currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, scrutinizes an economic relationship that he sees as fundamental. Specifically, Crouch examines the predominant way that European governments cope with the tension that exists between flexibility in employment (hiring and firing) and stability in employment (job security at an acceptable level of compensation). In general, business owners strive to maximize employment flexibility as is seen in the recent expansion of zero-hours contracts wherein employees are not guaranteed any set number of work hours or any income, but must be on-call to work whenever contacted. On the other hand, workers seek standard labor union goals, that is, high pay and benefits as well as protection against firing. How advanced societies have sought to balance these competing interests has changed over time. A product of unique historical circumstances, the type of balance is also shaped by economic ideologies.

This book posits a general hypothesis that the great economic crisis of 2007-2008 may have changed the way European states balance these competing interests. In Crouch's view the neo-liberal economic ideology was ascendant prior to the crisis, with its strong emphasis on deregulated markets. The balance swung in the direction of employment flexibility and against employment stability. The neo-liberal argument claims that maximizing employment flexibility actually promotes employment stability because the unregulated market forces foster and reward innovation and efficiency that creates jobs. Conversely, they argue paradoxically that attempts to stabilize employment stifle innovation and efficiency and thus jeopardize overall employment rates.

In contrast to this, Crouch theorizes that the social democratic alternative is aligned with traditional labor movements with an emphasis on overall economic equality. This alternative was in decline before the 2007-2008 economic crisis; labor union membership was decreasing, not only numerically but also in terms of political power. This book questions whether the crisis, which Crouch characterizes as a failure of the...

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