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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars


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on 9 March 2017
As a BSocSc student I found this book to be a very valuable when looking to get a grasp of how economics relates to social policy
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on 21 August 2012
The title of this book is IMO somewhat misleading - but only by understatement. Barr examines the role of the state in the provision of public goods, which free markets fail to produce in optimum quantities or to allocate efficiently. Early on he gives the standard, neo-Pigovian analysis of the characteristics of public goods and then deals with specific public goods such as defence, education and health services. The emphasis, particularly in health services, is to consider payment, provision (not necessarily by the same actor) and the consumption decision. The result is an insightful view of the underlying economic mechanisms. In particular Barr sticks rigorously to positive aspects of the issues and scrupulously avoids normative discussion - a welcome change from the pseudo-positive but crypto-normative approach that one gets from many neoclassical economists. Anyone concerned with understanding the economics of public service provision should read this book - because they don't come much better!
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on 1 April 2007
A useful primer for understanding some of the main ideological currents on issues of social welfare, but the conclusions tend towards New Labour policy prescriptions.

However, it's in the discussion of the funding of Higher Education when the wheels really come off. Any attempt at balance is suddenly deserted with the edict that There is No Alternative to tuition fees. This despite a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which concluded that the continued funding of HE from taxation or a graduate tax is certainly not unaffordable (whether desirable or not is obviously a value-judgement). As with the introduction of the policy itself, debate is simply not entered into, with alternatives dismissed out of hand. The idea that a system funded through income tax is `regressive' just doesn't wash: such a system was acceptable when just 5-7% went on to university, but is deemed regressive when that number rises towards 50%! Given that in absolute terms 95% of income tax is paid by the top 50% of earners (while 85%+ of those earning £100,000+ are graduates) it would seem not only the most effective, but also the most equitable solution - certainly more so than the educational poll tax of tuition fees. The closed nature of this discussion thus undermines confidence in the author's own university-based biases.

It is certainly worth reading, and deals well with the problems of privately-funded health care and provision for unemployment, disability and poverty, but is not without its own blind spots.
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on 22 August 2013
Useful and comprehensive set out of much theory, though slight prejudice on student fees. Good use of data. Would recommend
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on 11 August 2000
Nicholas Barr has written an excellent text, which focuses of the economic and financial structures of social welfare systems. A quite brilliant analysis, one which does not dabble in political comment (which is the norm with similar other books). A must for the economics student, and a challenging read for anyone interested in how our welfare system works - or how it should work!
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on 13 April 2011
This book intend to be an introduction to economics of welfare state, but at the same time, offering a great deal of references to expand your understanding in particular topics. From my point of view, these two objectives somewhat clash in this book.
The author has obviously erred in the side of inclusion, and the topics are not covered with properly.
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on 2 October 2015
the book is being used for studies of Economics in the Netherlands; it serves its purpose.
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