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The Environmental Paradox of the Welfare State: The Dynamics of Sustainability

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Thus far, there has been a reluctance to instigate a dialogue and engage with the tensions between two literatures with significant insights for each other. The first is the literature on the fiscal sustainability of welfare states, which is invariably predicated upon future growth primarily to manage demographic changes. The second is the post-growth literature, which has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years due to an environmental critique of economic growth. Both literatures contain implications for the analysis of welfare state sustainability. The primary contribution of this paper will be to explore the intractability of the tensions between these discourses and the difficulty of mapping out a progressive policy direction in the twenty-first century which meets both our environmental and social sensibilities. It is claimed that in the post-industrial world the fiscal sustainability of welfare capitalism is dependent upon public expenditure financed indirectly an environmentally unsustainable growth dynamic, but that ironically any conflagration of public welfare programmes is likely to be counter-productive as the welfare state is able to promote de-carbonisation strategies and notions of the public good as well as promoting monetarily and ecologically efficient public welfare services.
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Keywords: beyond GDP; climate change; environmental sustainability; fiscal sustainability; post-growth; welfare state

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Politics, University of Sheffield, Elmfield Building, Northumberland Road, Sheffield, S10 2TU, UK

Publication date: November 2, 2015

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