Edited by Heikki Ervasti, Torben Fridberg, Mikael Hjerm and Kristen Ringdal
Torben Fridberg and Olli Kangas INTRODUCTION Combating poverty is one of the most important tasks of the welfare state – perhaps its most fundamental task. Previous comparative research has shown that diﬀerent social policy models, or more broadly welfare state regimes, substantially diﬀer in their ability to alleviate poverty (www.lisproject.org/basictables; Atkinson 1998; Andreß 1998; Fritzell and Ritakallio 2004; Whelan and Maître 2005; Kangas and Ritakallio 2007). The welfare regimes not only diﬀer from each other in their capacities to combat poverty, but also in the deﬁnition of poverty and the tasks of the welfare state in relation to social problems (Esping-Andersen 1990). The conceptual construction of the tasks for the welfare state is deeply rooted in diﬀerent understandings of the proper relationships between the state and the individual. With some simpliﬁcation we can divide these views into collectivistic and individualistic views. The collectivist picture of human nature, which has been the driving force in the leftist welfare discourse, can be derived from the Aristotelian interpretation of man and society. According to Aristotle (1991, p. 10), an individual who is not engaged in a community is comparable to either a god or a beast. A person between these two extremes is a social creature who, even as an individual, exists only in relation to others. Thus, individual welfare is also socially determined: poverty is deﬁned socially, and social relationships are an essential source of well-being. Robinson needs his Friday. The idea of the relativity...
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