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Globalization as ‘Galton's Problem’: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Diffusion Patterns in Welfare State Development

  • Detlef Jahn (a1)


Most macro cross-national studies in political science that analyze the impact of globalization on domestic policies do not sufficiently consider the methodological consequences of diffusion processes, or “Galton's problem,” as it is often referred to. I argue that globalization is a form of diffusion. Therefore it requires a shift from an exclusively functional analysis, which dominates in almost all established comparative studies in the field, to a diffusional analysis. I assume that globalization leads to a shift in focus on the part of political actors from domestic to international issues. I test this hypothesis by examining social expenditure rates of sixteen highly developed welfare states. The results indicate that globalization has become a highly influential factor since the late 1980s in contrast to the years before. In addition to the actual results presented here, the methodological approach of analyzing globalization as diffusion is relevant to other areas of comparative and international politics and may be a tool in future research.The results of this article are based on a research project, “Environmental Problems as a Global Phenomenon,” which is supported by the German Research Society (DFG; JA 638/7). I wish to thank my research assistants Katrin Daedlow and Bertram Welker for supporting me in data collection and analysis. For constructive comments on different versions of the manuscript, I thank Reinhard Wolf, Kerstin Martens, Susanne Pickel, Kati Kuitto, and above all Elizabeth Zelljadt, two anonymous referees, and the editor of this journal. Most of the revision of this article was written while I visited the Department of Political Science at UCLA. I thank George Tsebelis and James Honaker for comments and advice and Michael Lofchie for his hospitality. I also received invaluable support from Heino von Meyer and Herbert Pfeiffer from the OECD Berlin Centre. Finally I would also like to thank Michael Zürn, who motivated me with his statement that comparative country studies might become obsolete in times of globalization. Without this provocation, this article would not have been written.



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