The ‘Dependent Variable Problem’ in Comparative Analysis
Edited by Jochen Clasen and Nico A. Siegel
Chapter 3: Too Narrow and Too Wide at Once: The ‘Welfare State’ as Dependent Variable in Policy Analysis
3. Too narrow and too wide at once: the ‘welfare state’ as a dependent variable in policy analysis Giuliano Bonoli INTRODUCTION The ‘welfare state’, the object of a substantial amount of policy research over the last three decades or so, is an ill deﬁned entity. Deﬁnitions found in the literature tend to be based either on vague notions such as ‘policies that aim to improve people’s welfare’ or as enumerations of policies that belong to the welfare state. None of these approaches is really satisfactory. In the former case, it is diﬃcult to think of a policy that does not aim to improve people’s welfare. In the latter, by relying on an unspeciﬁed listing of policies, we miss the criterion that tells us what belongs to the welfare state and what doesn’t. This confusion has arguably always represented a problem for social policy research, but in the current postindustrial social and economic context, an unclear understanding of what we mean by ‘the welfare state’ is a major obstacle to insightful analysis. Over the last 20 years or so, we have witnessed the development of new policies, such as child care or active labour market policies, which have little in common with the traditional protective and de-commodifying function of postwar welfare states. These new policies do not aim to protect individuals from market forces; instead they have the objective of improving their chances to succeed in the market. They do not promote de-commodiﬁcation; they improve the...
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