Edited by Misa Izuhara
Chapter 10: Developmentalism and productivism in East Asian welfare regimes
Since the ‘Confucianism’ thesis emerged in explaining East Asian welfare regimes in the early 1990s, the most frequently used and influential argument in comparative East Asian social policy has been the ‘developmentalist’ or the ‘productivist’ thesis. Influenced by the argument of ‘developmental state’ theory (Johnson, 1982), these two explanations offer a powerful account of why East Asian welfare regimes differ from their Western counterparts, paying particular attention to the role of the state. The developmentalist / productivist thesis argues that growth-oriented (semi-)authoritarian states have vehemently pursued and achieved remarkable economic growth and that East Asian welfare regimes have been formulated under the strong influence of their productivist nature. The thesis also explains why these welfare states have been relatively underdeveloped. While much has been written to support these arguments, some scholars raise questions as to whether these theses continue to be valid in explaining the contemporary and fast-transforming East Asian welfare regimes, which have become politically democratic and economically liberal but have suffered from low fertility, rapid population ageing and income polarization. This line of the debate highlights an important question regarding the trajectory of East Asian welfare regimes, including whether recent changes are path-dependent or path-breaking (see the discussion in Part I of this volume). Others fundamentally question whether the concepts of developmentalism and productivism are still relevant in understanding the nature of East Asian welfare regimes.
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