Handbook on East Asian Social Policy
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Handbook on East Asian Social Policy

Edited by Misa Izuhara

Dramatic socio-economic transformations over the last two decades have brought social policy and social welfare issues to prominence in many East Asian societies. Since the 1990s and in response to national as well as global pressure, there have been substantial developments and reforms in social policy in the region but the development paths have been uneven. Until recently, comparative analysis of East Asian social policy tends to have focused on the established welfare state of Japan and the emerging welfare regimes of four ‘Tiger Economies’. Much of the recent debate indeed preceded China’s re-emergence onto the world economy. In this context, this Handbook brings China more fully into the contemporary social policy debates in East Asia. Organised around five themes from welfare state developments, to theories and methodologies, to current social policy issues, the Handbook presents original research from leading specialists in the fields, and provides a fresh and updated perspective to the study of social policy.
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Chapter 10: Developmentalism and productivism in East Asian welfare regimes

Young Jun Choi


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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