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Konstantin Vössing, "Predictably exceptional: The failure of social democracy and the formation of American labour politics in comparative perspective," Party Politics, 20 (September, 2014), 767-777. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
The debate about the formation of labour politics in the United States has revolved, for more than a century, around the diagnosis of American exceptionalism (Hartz, 1955; Hofstadter, 1948; Lipset, 1996; Sombart, 1906) and a variety of opposing arguments (Katznelson, 1997; Wilentz, 1984). Part of a broader discourse, the controversy emerged in response to the absence of a viable socialist party and the concomitant falsification of the Marxist expectation that radical labour politics should occur in any industrializing society.1 This article integrates prior arguments about the political causes for the formation of American labour politics into a comprehensive account and a formalized model, accompanied by an empirical illustration that can serve as a blueprint for further empirical testing. I argue that the failure of social democracy and the embrace of moderate syndicalism in the United States occurred as the rational response of labour elites to a uniquely American environment of full labour inclusion.

Table 1. Normative decision analysis.

Last Paragraph:
Many scholars of the American welfare state (among them Alesina et al., 2001) note that social provision in the United States is less extensive than in European countries, where social democratic parties were formed. This argument usually invokes a perspective that treats welfare states as an arena in which power resources of different social classes matter (Korpi, 1983). The fact that an optimal choice at the time resulted in a suboptimal outcome in the long run - if one accepts the size of the welfare state as the decisive yardstick - remains a dilemma of the American labour movement, but it could neither have been foreseen nor solved during labour's formative stage. It is also entirely plausible, however, to surmise that a smaller American welfare state would have occurred even if a labour party had been formed. What then remains as a causal explanation for the small American welfare state is not the kind of strategy labour elites embraced - moderate syndicalism or social democracy &endash; but instead a low level of mobilization success that might have occurred with either one of these choices.

Last updated November 2014