Abstracts & Papers in Stream 1

Historical Welfare Regimes

Motivated by the comparative historical analysis of welfare regimes in the wake of state-socialism, this essay elaborates concepts and theoretical methods for analysis of welfare regimes across a variety of historical settings. Informed by a critical reading of older and more recent literature on welfare regimes, and drawing on the legacy of classical political economy and relevant streams of contemporary social theory, the essay puts forward an analytic strategy that calls attention to historical variation in modalities of social, political, and economic integration under state-socialism and market-Leninism and their implications for welfare, insecurity, and social stratification. The essay illustrates the value of the historical welfare regimes through an analysis of historical and regional variation in the principles and institutions governing wellbeing and stratification in Viet Nam. The paper aims to restore the theoretical ambition that characterized earlier studies of welfare regimes (with their emphasis on political-class coalitions and cultures) while building upon recent conceptual innovations in the analysis of welfare regimes.

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Quantitative comparative research, particularly in the form of pooled time series cross-sectional regression, has been scrutinized ever since it first contributed to the comparative analysis of social policies. Thereby, model specifications and indicator operationalizations have largely been influenced by in-depth studies representing small samples of European cases. As data quality and availability for Asian countries is improving, there is an immediate temptation to ease the 'small-N problem' of quantitative comparative research by expanding country samples. Equally, there is a temptation for researchers to revert to well-established dependent and independent variables in the Western literature to explore Asian countries. This paper critically assesses the limitations of both approaches. It will do so by tracing the qualitative origins of the most important theoretical traditions accounting for the development and change of national social policies in Western context. Utilizing regression diagnostics, we highlight changes in the explanatory power of quantitative models and identify multivariate outliers for country samples with increasing diversity. Thus, we show traditional Western theories and indicators of social policy development, on their own, are hardly able to represent the development trajectories of Asian countries. We call, therefore, for a new and independent surge of in-depth case studies of Asian countries to inform a new round of more comprehensive, truly comparative, deductive research in the future.

Many Asian countries and cities have experienced rapid economic growth since the 1990s and at the same time have to face increasing economic crisis such as the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and global financial tsunami in 2008/09. This creates rising demand on social welfare and increasing grievances among the citizens. Many of these states tend to resort to ad hoc welfare strategies such as handing out short-term and piecemeal cash subsidies to their citizens, reduction of salary tax, waive of property rate and tax, consumption voucher, and health care voucher. This can be termed 'flexible welfare strategy', which is becoming common in Asian societies such as Macao, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

This paper points out that this strategies of flexibilization of welfare is not a new innovation, but an extension of 'flexible accumulation' strategy (David Harvey). Flexible accumulation has led to casualization of work and over-exploitation of workers. Similarly, flexible welfare strategy is unlikely to meet the long term needs of the citizens. This paper argues that flexible welfare strategy is ineffective in solving social problems we are facing today. At best, it is only a pain killer that pacifies grievances of the citizens temporarily. However, this is wasting resources, expensive, unsustainable, and lack of long term effect. Moreover, this contributes to reinforcing social inequalities, widening the gap between the rich and the poor; and may reinforce discrimination against new immigrants and ethnic minorities. This paper calls for a thorough evaluation of this 'flexible welfare strategy' and develop more appropriate welfare strategy to face the age of uncertainty.