Reconceptualizing Welfare State: A Comparative Framework for East Asia

Kamimura, Yasuhiro (2016). 'Reconceptualizing Welfare State: A Comparative Framework for East Asia' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

topics: Social Security Programs, Policy and Politics, EA - East Asia

abstract: Are there any distinct characteristics of East Asian welfare states in comparison to those of advanced welfare states in the West? If any, what kinds of historical and structural factors have created the differences? To answer these questions, we need to extend our perspective both historically and geographically. We should extend the historical perspective on the Poor Law tradition of the West and the lack of it in the East. Western welfare states were built on the tradition of the Poor Law, which itself was the descendant of the poor relief of the Church. This is the peculiarity rather than the progressiveness of the West. In the rest of the world, including East Asia, disadvantaged people were basically protected by the kinship group. We should also restore the international perspective of Polanyi to distinguish the different paths of the welfare states in the West and the East. While the advanced welfare states developed in the era of moderate globalization under the Bretton Woods regime, most East Asian welfare states have been forced to go against the strong wind of hyperglobalization since the 1990s. Based on the extended perspective as above, I will reexamine Esping-Andersen (1990)'s conceptualization of the welfare state, as well as elaborate an alternative theoretical framework. Let us capture a welfare state as the combination of both aspects of decommodification and destratification. Decommodification is required just as a free labor market is established, in spite of the presence or absence of democratic politics. It is not always rights-based. It can be provided by the Poor Law or by the kinship group. On the contrary, destratification (qualitative equalization) is a concept related to democracy in a certain political community. It is required along with the progress of democratization. Destratification transforms the nature of decommodification into a human and rights-based one, as well as extends it to the whole nation. In the postwar Western advanced countries, there emerged "the three worlds of welfare capitalism" as described by Esping-Andersen. They were, however, not the three types of decommodification as he supposed, but the types of destratification. Whereas the Poor Law has already existed as a historical underpinning for decommodification, the stable economic environment under the Bretton Woods regime made it possible to accommodate the request of democracy for destratification. As argued by Esping-Andersen, it depends on the structure of class coalition in the parliamentary politics which type of destratification emerges. The scope of his proposition is, however, limited to the advanced countries where the universal suffrage had been implemented early on. It is impossible to apply his framework to most of East Asian countries where the democratic parliamentary politics had not been established yet at that stage. In this paper, I will clarify the structural distinctiveness of East Asia in contrast to the West. First, since there was no such tradition as public poor relief, only family (or the kinship group) could serve as a historical underpinning for decommodification in East Asia. Second, because the favorable environment for welfare state development under the Bretton Woods regime had already disappeared when some of East Asian countries (such as Korea and Taiwan) experienced democratization, destratification process in East Asia was relatively restrained.

scroll to top