Aware of the limitations of Eurocentric approaches to small welfare states, this introductory chapter gives an overview of the similarities between the American, Japanese, and Korean welfare states, identifies key relevant actors, provides a theoretical framework, and sheds light on the underlying logic and mechanisms that led to the formation of the small welfare states. It introduces readers to a few crucial factors that are common to both the US and the two East Asian countries, Japan and Korea: (1) narrowly-organized labor unions at large corporations that have no immediate interest in demanding social welfare for the whole working class, (2) a plurality electoral system that overwhelms politicians with local issues and makes presidents and party leaders sensitive to unpopular tax increases, and (3) the early development of functional equivalents as substitutes for public welfare.
Rethinking Welfare in the US, Japan, and South Korea
Edited by Jae-jin Yang
Dennie Oude Nijhuis and Jae-jin Yang
Compared to many of their counterparts in continental Western Europe, the American and Korean labor union movements have proven to be much less committed to the development of solidaristic welfare programs that adequately cater for all wage earners, including the least privileged. According to conventional wisdom, this behavior was primarily the result of their political weakness. This chapter argues that the weak commitment of the American and Korean labor union movements to the development of solidaristic welfare programs cannot be attributed solely to their weak power resources. What also matters is the fact that both union movements were organized in a narrow manner for privileged workers. This illustrates how union membership composition shaped the attitudes of the American and Korean labor movements towards welfare, as well as the welfare outcomes in the two countries.
Jae-jin Yang and Yui-Ryong Jung
This chapter examines the effects of electoral system on the policy preference and behavior of politicians in South Korea. Korea is an ideal test bed for this analysis because it has a mixed-member electoral system. About 75% of representatives in the National Assembly are elected through the single-member-district (SMD) system, while the remainder are elected through proportional representation (PR). This allows us to identify different policy preferences and behaviors between two groups of separately elected officials. The main finding is that SMD representatives have more incentives than PR members to supply geographically targeted goods rather than nationwide public goods such as social welfare. Also, we observe a similar tendency for standing committee membership. Standing committees, which are instrumental to supplying geographically targeted benefits, are filled with SMD members, whereas most PR representatives are members of standing committees that oversee the government ministries in charge of social affairs.
Margarita Estévez-Abe, Jae-jin Yang and Christopher Faricy
This chapter looks at the electoral bases of tax politics. More specifically, it seeks to examine whether electoral systems and frequency of elections affect the levels of taxation. Methodologically, we adopt a mixed method strategy that combines statistical analysis with more descriptive qualitative case studies of three key cases—Japan, South Korea, and the United States. We found that the plurality electoral system and the frequency of national elections constrained governments’ abilities to raise tax revenue by introducing new taxes and raising tax rates. In short, these three small welfare states are similarly constrained in their tax capacities because of the way in which their elections take place.