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Political Philosophy on Welfare State - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 210
Welfare state/Political philosophy/Moon: Some of the programmes of the welfare state, such as public schools and old age pensions, were first developed in the nineteenth century, but what might be called the 'institutional' welfare state did not fully emerge until after World War Il, when most democratic countries adopted a more or less integrated range of programmes of welfare provision and policies of economic management. The institutional welfare state is characterized by a range of programmes designed to meet different needs and to provide security against various contingencies.
Brian Barry: At least as an ideal, as Brian Barry (1990)(1) points out, the institutional welfare state would not even require a general safety net, since specialized programmes would cover all of the different conditions that prevent people from meeting their needs. In reality, of course, there will always be some who fall between the cracks, and so the welfare state must have a programme of 'social assistance' to cover residual cases. The emergence of the institutional welfare state is reflected in the enormous growth of government expenditures to finance its programmes,
both in absolute terms and in relation to national income. In the UK, for example, social expenditure increased from less than 6 percent of GNP in 1920 to 25 percent in 1996—7 (Barr, 1998(2): 171).
Political theories on welfare state: tional frameworks. Students of the welfare state have offered a variety of classifications of welfare regimes, and disagree among themselves even about whether particular countries (notably, the US) even qualify as welfare states. Some students of welfare politics emphasize the difference between selective and universal welfare states (e.g.
Rothstein, 1998)(3); others discern liberal, corporatist, and social democratic regimes (e.g. Esping- Andersen, 1990)(4); while yet others distinguish among social democratic, Christian democratic,
liberal, and wage-earner welfare states (Huber and Stephens, 2001)(5).
More philosophically oriented theorists place the welfare state in the context of different traditions of political thought, and differ- ent ideals and/or patterns of justification. Thus, some discuss the minimal state and the arguments for and against it (e.g. Nozick, 1974(6); Schmidtz and Goodin, 1998(7)); others consider the 'residual' versus the 'institutional' welfare state (e.g. Barry, 1999)(8); yet others find four distinct strands, laissez-faire, feminism, socialism, and Fabianism (Clarke, Cochrane and Smart, 1987(9)). While most recognize that class is a major concern of the welfare state, an increasing number of theorists see that gender is at least as important (Gordon, 1990(10); Fraser, 1997(11)).
Moon: As a political formation the welfare state tends todivide theorists who in other respects share a view
Gaus I 211
of politics. Thus, defenders and critics of the welfare state include people who identify themselves
as (inter alia) >conservatives, >liberals, >communitarians, >socialists, and postmodernists, and so both its critics and its defenders find themselves with strange allies and opponents.
Common features: In spite of the great variability mentioned above, welfare states share important features; four of the most important are a democratic political system, a largely private market economy, a wide range of public programmes that provide monetary support or services as a matter of right, and an active role for the state in managing the economy to dampen the business cycle and to regulate economic activities.
Efficiency: (...) many welfare services are provided through market transactions, such as the purchase of life or medical insurance. Why, then, should the state be involved in providing welfare, either directly in the form of specific services (such as health care or education) or in the form of resources or income to enable people to meet their own needs? Government programmes, after all, both involve an element of coercion and impose uniformity.
Gaus I 212
Market: The alternative to state provision is often taken be the market, where profit-seeking firms provide consumers with goods and services. But this is an oversimplification, as families and voluntary associations also lay key roles.
Private provision: The rise of the welfare state with its compulsory programmes has led to the
demise of many of these voluntary associations and private firms reducing citizens' autonomy and
imposing uniformity on them. The more extensive the welfare state, the more it has displaced other welfare institutions.*
Efficiency: One reason for substituting state for private provision is that state provision (either of services or of resources) can sometimes be more effective than private provision, either because it can provide services or resources more cheaply, or because private provision is incapable of providing an optimal (or even adequate) level of services. For Problems: see >Market failure, >Public goods. For a Minimal welfare state: >Welfare state/Friedman.
Gaus I 214
Distributional justice: A second line of argument supporting the welfare state appeals to the idea of justice rather than efficiency. The policies of the welfare state do not simply make it possible for individuals to realize their own interests more effectively, but generally redistribute income. Efficiency-based arguments normally take the outcome produced by market exchange, prior to governmental taxation and transfers, as their baseline, and show that a particular policy can at least in principle make everyone better off than they would be given that baseline. But to the extent that welfare policies deliberately redistribute income, those whose income
goes down would normally (though not necessarily) be worse off; such policies could be justified, then, only by invoking values other than efficiency. >Distributive justice/welfare economics.
VsEfficency-based approaches: (...) the appeal to e Iciency is itself problematic, in as much as the pretax/pretransfer baseline it takes for granted must be justified. There are some risks which we face, when we think of our lives taken as a whole, that cannot be covered by any form of private provision, because they reflect conditions into which we are born, such as congenital handicaps, genetic predispositions to certain diseases, and the cultural and economic disadvantages one's parents may suffer. >Distributive justice/Welfare economics.


* See Paul (1997)(12), particularly the articles by Beito, Davies, and the references cited therein for an account of non-state forms of welfare.


1. Barry, Brian (1990) 'The welfare state versus the relief of poverty'. Ethics, 100 (June): 503-29.
2. Barr, Nicholas (1998) The Economics of the Welfare State, 3rd edn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
3. Rothstein, Bo (1998) Just Institutions Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Esping-Andersen, Gosta (1990) Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Umversity Press.
5. Huber, Evelyne and John D. Stephens (2001 ) Development and Crisis of the Welfare State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
6. Nozick, Robert (1974) Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Oxford: Blackwell.
7. Schmidtz, David and Robert Goodin (1998) Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge Umversity Press.
8. Barry, Norman (1999) Welfare, 2nd edn. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
9. Clarke, John, Allan Cochrane and Carol Smart (1987) Ideologies of Welfare. London: Hutchinson.
10. Gordon, Linda, ed. (1990), Women, State, and Welfare. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
11. Fraser, Nancy (1997) Justice Interruptus. New York: Routledge.
12. Paul, Ellen, ed. (1997) The Welfare State. Cambridge: Cambridge Umversity Press.


Moon, J. Donald 2004. „The Political Theory of the Welfare State“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications

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Mause I 579ff
Welfare State/Political Theories: given the empirical diversity of the structure of the welfare state in the various countries, one must assume that one is dealing with a mixed system in the specific case of an examined country. The term welfare state is criticized as conservative. (Schmidt 2005) (1). For the division into system types see Esping-Andersen 1990(2) and 1999(3).
Mause I 581
History of the welfare state: the oldest strand of comparative welfare research used key socio-economic variables such as the state of economic development, the spread of employees in the non-agricultural sector ("employment rate") and other concepts of macro-sociological modernisation. (Customs officer 1963 (4); Wilensky 1975 (5).
Functionalistic explanations: here we are concerned, among other things, with the diffusion of social policy effects across territorial borders, e.g. social learning (Hall 1993) (6).
Garbage can theory: this is about the contingent interaction of political processes, one example being the multiple streams approach. (Kingdon 1984)(7).
Newer approaches, on the other hand, focused on concepts such as power, conflict and institutions and examined decision-making processes.
Party Difference Thesis/Hibbs: (Hibbs 1977) (8): The party-political composition of governments is significantly reflected in internationally and historically variable levels of social expenditure. (Castles 1982 (9); Schmidt 2005 )

1. Manfred G. Schmidt, Sozialpolitik in Deutschland. Historische Entwicklung und internationaler Vergleich, Wiesbaden 2005
2. Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. 1990. The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton 1990.
3. Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. Social foundations of postindustrial economies. Oxford 1999.
4. Zöllner, Detlev. Öffentliche Sozialleistungen und wirtschaftliche Entwicklung. Ein zeitlicher und internationaler Vergleich. Berlin 1963.
5. Wilensky, Harold L. 1975. The welfare state and equality. Structural and ideological roots of public expenditures. Berkeley 1975.
6. Peter A. Hall, 1993. Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state. The case of economic policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25( 3): 275– 296.
7. Kingdon, John W., Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Boston/ Toronto 1984.
8. Hibbs, Douglas A. 1977. Political parties and macroeconomic policy. American Political Science Review 71: 1467– 1487.
9. Castles, Francis G. The impact of parties on public expenditure. In The impact of parties: Politics and policies in democratic capitalist states, Hrsg. Francis G. Castles, 21– 96. London 1982.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Political Philosophy
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004

Mause I
Karsten Mause
Christian Müller
Klaus Schubert,
Politik und Wirtschaft: Ein integratives Kompendium Wiesbaden 2018


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