The political process behind welfare state development in East Asia

When explaining public policy outcomes, preference is often given to structural factors, such as the population's demographic structure, the intrinsic logic of policy programs, and, most importantly, the level of economic development1. The drawback of such a one‐sided approach becomes evident when we look at social policy outcomes in East Asia, which can hardly be explained by structural factors. The current study, thus, suggests to take a more actor‐oriented perspective and analyzes social policy outcomes as the result of a policy process, in which actor groups with different policy preferences and perceptions negotiate with each other. In this perspective, increases in social welfare efforts by the State are seen as the consequence of successful advocacy and coalition building of actors who favor welfare state expansion. The focus of the study lies on the resources and constraints, which these actors face. In line with the study's conceptual framework, the Advocacy Coalition Framework, we expect to find that social welfare proponents are successful in reaching their objectives when political resources, such as available information on the policy issue, are rich, and political constraints, such as the nonaccessibility of decision‐making procedures, are limited.
The study is based on data drawn from expert interviews in three East Asian countries: South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia. For each of the country, key social welfare reforms of the past 30 years were selected and potential stakeholders identified and interviewed. The results suggest that the winning formula for social welfare proponents is the successful coalition‐building between technical experts with a privileged access to information on one hand and civil society groups with their potential to mobilize the public on the other hand; in some decisive moments, they have been able to join forces with higher civil servants who had a more direct access to political decision‐making.