FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Friday, February 9, 2018

What role does ideology play in the establishment of a welfare regime?

My complete collection of Grad School Notes can be found here (Africa, IR, Ethnic Conflict, Economics, Writing, Islam, Comparative Politics).

In this essay I argue that ideology plays a critical role in the establishment of a welfare regime.  The modern welfare regime is inexorably tied to the ideology of liberalism, in stark contrast to its Marxist roots.  

In addressing the role of ideology within the creation of a welfare regime it is useful to define these terms.  An ideology usually develops when someone makes an observation about a phenomenon in society or history and creates a theory to explain it.  When this theory is transformed and becomes an explanation for everything—usually as a normative mindset—it becomes an ideology.  An ideology asserts that its worldview can explain any problem, conflict  or occurrence.   In its comprehensiveness then it is very useful but logically it can be very circular and unsatisfying.  Ideologies are most often characterized by an -ism (e.g., communism, marxism, objectivism, liberalism, fascism, feminism).  

A welfare regime is a government whose laws and policies seek to provide for some measure of the wealth (in the holistic sense) of the entire people.   Typically the elements of this welfare include shelter, security, education, health care and subsistence.  This idea’s ideological roots harken back to Hobbes’ conception of the social contract—the agreement by which people cede elements of their individual freedom for the good of the whole.  The abdication of rights transforms a person’s natural state from one that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” to one that emerges in concert with a state’s creation.  With only the church and private charities to provide for a population’s welfare prior to the emergence of the welfare state, Hobbes’ description of most people’s lives was an apt one.
The specific ideology that a state embraces plays a pivotal role in the development of its welfare regime.  Today this development is a foregone conclusion as nearly every state is a welfare one in some measure.  There are a plethora of catalysts for this progression but the most fundamental one is that of risk mitigation.  Failing to provide at least a modicum of welfare puts a state at risk for social instability and upheaval (from revolution), international economic decline (from competition) and strategic political decline (from global competitors).  If risk management is the primary influence on a welfare regime, then a state’s interpretation of social justice is an important secondary factor.  
While the modern (post World War II) welfare state is a product of liberalism’s influence on the tension between democracy’s conception of political equality and capitalism’s conception of economic inequality, its true roots are in Marxism.  The normative concept of class equality is a central underlying principle of a welfare regime.  Few states espouse the severe notion of class conflict as a sole driving force anymore but nearly all now recognize the insidious destabilizing effect of chasmic economic and political inequality.  When an ideology eventually disappears (and all do), it does so either because it failed or because everyone ended up believing it.  Whereas an idea like fascism failed, echoes of Marxism live on today.  

The liberalist notion that individual freedoms must be protected is the balancing factor that tempers the excesses of the capitalist market.  As Crepaz points out, this balance manifests uniquely in different states.  Sweden, Germany and the United States all place their baseline level of economic equality at different marks.  The width of an acceptable gap determines the level of welfare provisions by the state.  In these examples the aforementioned circular nature of ideology is instructive as Crepaz shows that even the liberal belief in individual freedom for all becomes tempered when the all includes people deemed to be outsiders.  The evolving notion of liberalism will continue to affect the level of welfare provided as states continue to embrace liberal democracy.  

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