What is the welfare state?

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What Does Welfare state Mean

We explain what the welfare state is, its origin, characteristics and models in different countries. Also, how it entered into crisis.

In the welfare state the state provides basic services.

What is the welfare state?

In political science , we speak of the welfare state or welfare state, as well as the providential state or welfare state, to refer to a general model of state administration , according to which the latter must provide the inhabitants of a country with basic services, in compliance with the social rights of citizens.

In other words, the welfare state is a socio-political and economic model that starts from the idea of social justice . That is to say, it aims for the State to manage the rules of the game of society , to guarantee that as few citizens as possible are deprived of their minimum fundamental rights.

Its proponents see it as the best model to combat poverty and inequality , through the democratic exercise of state power committed to the quality of life of the people . On the other hand, it is highly criticized by the most liberal sectors of society, who interpret it as an unfair model, which takes away the productive sectors to give to the unproductive ones.

In principle, the welfare state is understood as “the passage from social security only for a few, to social security for all citizens”: that is, the right to pensions, health care, protection against unemployment , to education , culture and public services ( electricity , water , gas ).

It can help you: Public management

Origin of the welfare state

The term "welfare state" comes from a literal translation of the English Welfare state , used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple in 1945 , at the end of World War II . With the term Welfare , he sought to oppose Keynesian economic policies to the so-called " Warfare state" carried out by Nazi Germany.

However, before there was talk of the need for a model that would improve the living conditions of the population . Especially during the nineteenth century when the labor movements of the European West prompted the government to legislate in their favor, ensuring minimally acceptable conditions of living of the working class .

This goal has been very partially achieved, in part due to the advent of reactionary dictatorships in the mid-twentieth century. However, the influence of the socialist and reformist movements, as well as the liberal and Christian social movements, together with the trade union forces, succeeded after the Second World War in imposing much more benevolent socio-economic conditions, which would come to be called “the golden age of capitalism ”.

However, there are debates as to which economic recipe accompanied such an emergence of the welfare state . Some advocate Keynesianism, others ordoliberalism, and some point out the similarities between the two philosophies.

Characteristics of the welfare state

The welfare state offered more dignified working conditions.

The welfare state was characterized by:

  • He managed to harmonize the tensions of the capitalist system , through an administration aimed at solving poverty, inequality , discrimination , unemployment, modern forms of slavery , war and criminal cruelty.
  • It deepened democracy through the recognition of the rights and needs of many traditionally marginalized sectors of the working class.
  • It confirmed to the State a more active economic role , in order to obtain social welfare and economic growth.
  • He dismissed the need for war , promoting internal commercial exchange as a necessity in Europe at the time.

Social models of the welfare state

The welfare state is a concept that was not achieved in the same way everywhere, but spawned various social models, throughout Europe, that traditionally oppose the liberal American model. It could even be said that there are many possible states of well-being, such as:

  • The Nordic model. Carried out by Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and the Netherlands. This model was possible thanks to the relative cultural homogeneity of the peoples of the Scandinavian north, and its pillars are financing through tax collection , high standards of public investment and social universalism.
  • The continental model. Carried out in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg. Very similar to the Nordic one, but with a greater orientation towards the payment of pensions, it is based on assistance and social security, partially subsidized by the State.
  • The Anglo-Saxon model. Developed in Ireland and the United Kingdom. With fewer preventive measures and a last resort assistance model, it directs the greatest amount of subsidies to the working class of working age, and to a lesser extent towards pensions. It is considered one of the most efficient, after the Nordic, in reducing poverty and combating unemployment.
  • The Mediterranean model. Own of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. This model was achieved later than the rest (between the 70s and 80s), and consists of a greater investment in pensions, with very low social assistance expenses, for a population that presents a great social segmentation, and whose work receives more protection than the workers themselves .

Welfare state crisis

Towards the end of the 20th century, the welfare state entered into crisis and was gradually replaced by neoliberalism . This new model was dismantling the previous system and strongly liberalizing societies, especially in Latin America and the Third World.

These changes were proposed to solve the difficulties of financing a welfare model through privatization, the reduction of the State and public spending, to allow the action of the “invisible hand of the market”.

Initially, immediate advances were made under Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in England, to name two of its great defenders. However, the effects of neoliberalism in the long run contradicted what was expected .

Its result was an increase in debt and generating a greater impoverishment of society, especially in Latin America. The world economic growth rate, which was around 3% per year between 1950 and 1973, is estimated to have declined from then on (1973-2000) to less than 1.5% per year.

In 2010, the International Monetary Fund published figures that, for many, prove that the effects of the change in model produced a slowdown in world economic growth, with the notable exception of the Asian continent , especially China.

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