ECPR General Conference
University of Wrocław, Wrocław
4 - 7 September 2019

Changing Political Economies and Welfare States

Welfare State
Section Number
Section Chairs
Tim Vlandas
University of Oxford
Hanna Schwander
Hertie School of Governance
Section Co-Chair
Daniel Mertens
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

This section is part of a broader initiative of the new convenors of the Political Economy and Welfare State Standing Group (SG) to revive scholarly exchange on the group’s theme within the ECPR by engaging with how political economies and welfare states are changing and being challenged by recent economic and political developments, most notably the economic crisis, financialisation, the conflicting pressures on - and new visions of - the welfare state, and the rise of radical left and radical right populism. The first panel is entitled ‘New visions of the welfare state in the aftermath of the Economic Crisis’ (chair: Hanna Schwander, Hertie School of Governance). It plans to investigate the attitudes and preferences towards new visions of the welfare states, such as basic universal income, social investment policies, and welfare chauvinism. The second panel explores the nexus between finance and the welfare state (chairs: Daniel Mertens, Goethe University Frankfurt, and Natascha van der Zwan, Leiden University). It aims to analyse comparatively how the welfare state and the financial system are mutually intertwined, adopting a broader conception of finance which includes not just financial actors and their interest organizations, but also financial ideas and narratives. The third panel on the political economy of populism (chair: Tim Vlandas, University of Oxford) seeks to promote a more nuanced understanding of how economic and cultural factors, as well as welfare state policies, shape individual support for radical right and radical left populism. Taken together these three panels therefore address key challenges facing changing welfare states and political economies.

Panel 1 - Title: New visions of the welfare state in the aftermath of the Economic Crisis
Chair: Hanna Schwander (Hertie School of Governance)
The Great Recession ended a period of job growth in Europe and resulted in stagnating incomes, increasing social inequalities and acerbated existing insecurities about life prospects for many Europeans. The European welfare states are the central institutions to manage these social and economic risks. As one of the major social and political achievements of the twentieth century post-war era, it has supported democratic stability and has protected most citizens from the social risks of income loss and poverty, in the event of sickness, old age or unemployment. The welfare state enjoys therefore board popularity among the European people. However, even before the Great Recession European welfare states have come under a two-fold reform pressure: one the one hand, new demands for social protection due to structural social and economic changes were voiced and, on the other hand, pressures for financial consolidation and even retrenchment of welfare state spending were mounting.

What we observe therefore is “twin process” of welfare state reforms. Fiscal consolidation of existing welfare state schemes at the one hand, and re-calibration of the welfare state on the other hand to cover “new social risks”, expand coverage of existing schemes for previously weakly protected outsiders and the implementation of “social investment policies”, i.e. policies that invest in human capital employability, and employment-creation rather than income replacement and job protection focus of the old welfare state. These reform processes create new distributive divides within societies and their success depends crucially on the willingness of voters to accept reforms.

For this session, we invite papers that study attitudes and preferences towards new visions of the welfare states, such as basic universal income, social investment policies, welfare chauvinism but also social protection schemes at the level of the European Union. We are particularly interested in papers with a focus on the political implications of these attitudes and preferences, that is their implications for electoral participation, party choice or other forms of political behavior, before and after the crisis. We invite papers that combine preferences for one policy field with preferences towards other policies fields as well as papers taking a single country
perspective as well as papers with a broad cross-national perspective.

Panel 2 - Title Finance and the Welfare State in Comparative Perspective
Chairs: Daniel Mertens (Goethe University Frankfurt) & Natascha van der Zwan (Leiden University)
Scholars of the welfare state have shown how traditional welfare arrangements are challenged by new kinds of risks that have emerged in the late twentieth century. Among these risks is the process of financialization. It refers to the growing influence of financial markets and financial actors over the productive economy and over society at large, affecting the welfare state in several ways. For instance, welfare provisions may rely on financial market investment for funding while financial arrangements have also been touted as alternative sources of welfare (e.g. through asset-based welfare) and governments have developed new financial activities in order to maintain current welfare provisions. Furthermore, several indirect effects of financialization affect the sustainability of mature welfare states, such as growing indebtedness and social-economic inequalities. Against this background, the panel has two aims: First, it hopes to reintegrate scholarship on welfare and finance to come to a better understanding of how the welfare state and the financial system are mutually intertwined, both historically and comparatively. Furthermore, we hope to approach the panel theme using a broader conception of finance: to include not just financial actors and their interest organizations, but also financial ideas and narratives, norms and practices that interact at different scales of the modern polity.

Panel 3 - Title: The Political Economy of Populism
Chair: Tim Vlandas (University of Oxford)
In the context of the recent economic and migration crises, many European countries have experienced increased support for radical right and radical left populist parties, illustrating the rising appeal of populism and growing political polarisation across the continent. There is an emerging literature exploring the linkages between the economic and migration crises on the one hand, and the rise of these parties on the other hand. Many recent accounts suggest that immigration and cultural worries are more important determinants of this phenomenon than economic dynamics, but most do not account for the possibility that these two types of worries overlap, cannot explain the type of populism that is successful and/or often ignore the role of the welfare state. This panel aims to build on these recent accounts to challenge and further explore the relationship between economic developments, cultural concerns, welfare state policies and support for radical right or radical left populist parties. We particularly welcome papers that address some of the following empirical and theoretical questions, while adopting a political economy approach and/or incorporating the welfare state into their analyses. First, does the absence of a conclusive cross-national correlation between immigration flows and support for these parties suggest that immigration is not relevant? Second, since many recent studies dismiss the role of the economy, how should we account for the simultaneous occurrence of the economic crisis and the rising support for radical right and radical left populist parties in Europe? Third, it remains unclear under what conditions voters choose radical left populist versus radical right populist parties. Fourth, to what extent do factors typically seen as capturing cultural concerns are also influenced by economic dynamics, and conversely, do economic concerns also have a cultural dimension? Last but not least, what is the role of welfare state policies in shaping support for these parties and how do we explain the variation in the extent to which these parties take different positions on the welfare state?

Share this page

"Aristocracies … may preserve themselves longest, but only democracies, which refresh their ruling class, can expand" - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Back to top