Bridging the Social Infrastructure of Human Development and the Capability Approach to explore crises across history

Carpentier, Vincent; Michel, Sandrine (2014). 'Bridging the Social Infrastructure of Human Development and the Capability Approach to explore crises across history' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The global economic downturn that unfolded in 2008 has generated alternative diagnoses and policy responses that directly question the relationship amongst the public sphere, social justice and economic performance. The fact that most countries have switched to an austerity mode with significant social costs and without clear economic recovery invites us to reflect on the links and tensions between growth and inequalities. It also represents an opportunity to look at the different research strands attempting to define social welfare and/or social progress through the construction and analysis of social indicators. This corpus of research has shown that economic growth is not sufficient to define social progress and that the relationship between the two is far from clear (Jany-Catrice and Meda 2013; Nolan 2013; Flavin et al. 2014).

In this paper, we will argue, drawing on quantitative historical studies that social progress can no longer be conceptualised as a result of economic growth. Indeed, based on the régulation approach (Jessop 2013), we show that, historically, the successive phases of growth of social spending have been contemporaneous of socioeconomic crises and contributed to their overcoming (Carpentier, V. 2006; Michel 2013). Thus, considering social spending as a burden of growth might not be the most inappropriate response. Thus, it is crucial, especially in turbulent times, to find information to analyse social spending in other ways.

This paper seeks to understand how the development of social spending might sustain a more efficient and equitable economic growth. As such, it proposes to contribute to existing measurement and interpretation of the links between wealth and social progress. Although existing social indicators offer crucial information on social progress or setback, they tend to focus on outcome rather than process and as result provide little insight into the nature of social expenditure. Thus, this paper aims to complement existing methodologies by introducing a new concept: the social infrastructure for human development.

Our first objective in developing an indicator of the social infrastructure for human development is to offer a long-tem lens by developing quantitative national histories of social spending. The aim is to interpret the changing relationship between social systems and economic growth over the long period. In several high income countries, the relation between the fluctuations in social spending and those of the GDP reveals two key historical relations with reference to the long-waves design: the growth of social spending is countercyclical from the mid-19th century to 1945 and became procyclical afterwards. This reversal could be explained by the aggregation of social spending in the social infrastructure for human development acting as a new leading emerging force in economic growth.

Our second objective is to engage on a theoretical dialogue with the capability approach (CA). Amongst the rich theoretical frameworks seeking to develop and analyse social indicators (Stiglitz et al 2008), we are particularly interested in those illustrating social progress as a result. The most relevant of them is the CA (Sen 1985, 1999, 2009, 2013) which focuses on the possibility for individuals to choose between functionings in order to change for a better life through time. We suggest that the ways in which changes in capabilities operate depend on a large part on social spending and their role in making possible the development across time of a social infrastructure for human development. However, the indicators that are traditionally associated to the CA do not provide information on this process because they tend to neglect time. Moreover, their focus on result rather than on process do not inform us on how social spending move from global application to individuals. Therefore, this historical analysis seeks to contribute to establish a theoretical link between social spending and capabilities that would contribute to refine the understanding of social progress as partially driven by the construction of a social infrastructure for human development. We argue that such an exploration of the historical connections and tensions between capabilities and social expenditures can contribute to contemporary policy debate.

The paper will examine the contribution of social indicators to the understanding of economic performance and discusses opportunities to combine them with other indicators focusing on social spending over a long period. The second section will explore how the study of human development and social spending could be bridged in order to offer a theoretical interpretation of social progress. To do this we initiate a dialogue between the regulation approach and the CA which both pay special attention to human development that proceed from social spending. Section 3 will focus on the methodological issues and the construction of an Index of Social Infrastructure of Human Development (ISIHD). Finally, section 4 will present the findings from our analysis of the historical trends and patterns of the ISIHD and draws some conclusions and propositions for further research.



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