A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy
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A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy

Edited by Patricia Kennett

The current context of social policy is one in which many of the old certainties of the past have been eroded. The predominantly inward-looking, domestic preoccupation of social policy has made way for a more integrated, international and outward approach to analysis which looks beyond the boundaries of the state. It is in this context that this Handbook brings together the work of key commentators in the field of comparative analysis in order to provide comprehensive coverage of contemporary debates and issues in cross-national social policy research.
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Chapter 9: Robin Hood, St. Matthew, or Simple Egalitarianism? Strategies of Equality in Welfare States

Walter Korpi and Joakim Palme


9 Robin Hood, St Matthew, or simple egalitarianism? Strategies of equality in welfare states Walter Korpi and Joakim Palme How should welfare states be organized in order to decrease inequality and poverty among citizens? In the long debates on this question in Western societies we find at least three types of answers. One recommendation is to follow the Robin Hood principle: take from the rich and give to the poor. A second alternative can be traced back at least to the gospel of St Matthew: to those that have shall be given, that is more to the rich than to the poor. A third proposal is a compromise between the noble robber and the apostle: give equally much to the poor as to the rich. The above action alternatives in social policy embody what the British historian R.T. Tawney (1952) once called ‘strategies of equality’. These strategies bring to the fore at least two different issues. One is whether social policies should be targeted or universal, that is, whether they should be organized for the poor only, or whether the welfare state should include all citizens. The second concerns the level of benefits to be accorded via social insurance, that is, whether benefits should be equal for all or related to previous earnings and income. Solutions of the latter issue determine to what extent the ‘middle classes’ are included in the welfare state in a way which protects their accustomed living standards. Scholars as well as policy makers...

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