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Introduction: the end of the welfare state?

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The welfare state has been said to be in crisis many times. Many have predicted the death of the patient, but without having made a proper diagnosis. Reasons for such crises, it has been argued, have been globalisation, change in demography, lack of legitimacy and lack of ability to .nance public sector activities.

As the articles in this issue show, however, despite the many changes it seems that welfare states are alive and kicking. Changes, adaptation, recasting, recalibration and restructuring are some of the words attached to the development of welfare states in Europe.

It thus seems that despite a rhetoric of crisis and difficulty in the European welfare states what we instead are witnessing are, although profound, changes with a high level of respect for a continuation of the welfare states as developed over the last 100 years.

One reason for this might be the electoral cost of retrenchment, but it could also be due to the fact that the historical reason for the development of the welfare state still exists. This can be witnessed in the need for intervention due to market-failure, the need to cover certain contingencies and a need to cover risks, for example, in relation to work accidents.

The welfare states still have, on top of that, a role as redistributor between rich and poor, and between generations and over the life-cycle of the individual.

Maurizio Ferrera in his article points to the fact that even though it looks like there is a trade off between efficiency and equality, this does not need to be the case. Further, he also notes that there is still room for manoeuvre for the national decision makers to find solutions despite pressure from outside. In his article he also points to a role for the European Union which by promoting ideas and analysis has put forward methods of change at the national level. Experiences with new forms and strategies in welfare state policy, and using learning effects thus seem to be a new avenue for development.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2003

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