Recalibrating self-sufficiency in East Asian context: from productivist to productive consideration

Self-sufficiency has been one of the longstanding moral beliefs in East Asian societies. Without relying on formal institutions, economic self-reliance has been regarded as 'most desirable' in terms of meeting individual welfare needs. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the role of informal institutions such as family and community has played a significant role in providing welfare since the pre-industrial period. In the phase of industrialization, the notion of self-sufficiency was even strengthened due to the idea of developmentalism associated with the Confucian tradition. The thesis of productivist welfare capitalism representing growth-oriented paradigm with low welfare efforts by governments (Holliday 2000) can explain the persistent importance of self-sufficiency in East Asian societies.

While it is true that self-sufficiency is still an important underlying logic, it seems that rapid socio-economic changes have brought the old concept of self-sufficiency to an end. The old concept, though hardly systematically studied, is largely based on male-breadwinner model with special attention to employment and education. In other words, the unit of self-sufficiency has been, more often than not, a family sustained by men's labor. However, a number of newly emerging factors undermines the old type of self-sufficiency; post-industrializing industrial structure, ageing, increasing women's labor market participation, destabilizing full-employment labor market with life-long employment practice, and weakening family solidarity. In this context, this paper aims to recalibrate the concept of 'self-sufficiency' in post-industrializing East Asian welfare regimes. More specifically, while self-sufficiency is without losing productive components, the paper will argue that its scope should be extended further from employment and education to five sub-concepts; employment, education, childcare, disability, and minimum livelihood. In addition to proposing a set of key indicators for self-sufficiency, it will demonstrate how useful the new concept of self-sufficiency is for understanding changing East Asian societies.