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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: July 2021

2 - Welfare and Work: State Autonomy Revisited


The troubled relationship between economic growth and redistribution/welfare is a long-standing concern in the social sciences. Globalisation, associated increasingly with the duality of rising wealth and continuing deprivations, has brought an added sharpness to this concern. Two principal genres of a critical discourse can be located. Marxist critiques of globalisation and market-led economic growth – anchored in the dependency perspective, and infused with class analysis – are theoretically rich but marked by a deep, brooding pessimism and lacking in robust alternatives. On the other side, strands of liberal, mainstream social science are rooted in a pragmatic world view: that alongside a capitalist and market-based economic model, an appropriate degree of state responsibility should be restored and maintained. Marked by a nostalgia for the post-war social-democracy-inspired welfare state, and an anxiety to restore some dimensions of it, this genre of scholarship remains at the same time strongly committed to retaining the gains of the new economic model of globalisation and privatisation.

Partly a reincarnation of post-war Keynesian statist welfarism, this genre of writings can also be looked at as a narrative attempting to re-theorise the developmental state. Emerging at a time when the market had gained legitimacy of hegemonic proportions, reiterations of the state's centrality, which have emerged from global institutions and from leading scholars, are critical interventions that shape a new political normativity of justice and public responsibility. Do they do more? Does a substantively new theory of the state emerge from contemporary writings on the capitalist developmental state?

As a generalised critique of the inequitable nature of globalisation/market-led development began to emerge in both academic and public discourses, the expansion of social rights became part of the defined political agenda of democratic governments as well as of scholars striving to provide a humane face to a market-driven model of development. Critical of the inequitable impact of global capitalism, these writings have nevertheless stayed away from a determinist interpretation of the capitalist state as inevitably exclusivist and moved towards a more eclectic theorisation, which leaves open the possibility of inclusive social policies. Within this broad conceptual framework, scholars have reiterated the need for state attention to employment-generating economic policies as well as state-sponsored social insurance targeting poorer sections of the population.