27 May 2013

Public policy responses to the current fiscal crisis in one quote...

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy." Ernest Benn

26 May 2013

Public and private European Debt in 2001 and 2012

Thanks to the really good Big Picture Blog, I've just discovered this really cool tool developed by the Wall Street Journal to visualise the evolution of private and public debt.

Restricting the sample to Western European countries (with Canada and the US included as reference point) and comparing the debt situation in 2001 to that in 2012, reveals some interesting patterns. The Y axis displays the level of public debt as % of GDP, the X axis private debt as % of GDP, and the size of the circles indicates the level of aggregate GDP.

First in 2001, one observes the well-documented trade-off between public and private debt: southern European countries fared worse with respect to public debt but much better in terms of private debt. Thus, among European countries the main difference is more about the distribution of debt among public and private actors than the level.

Turning to 2012, a lot of countries have seen their levels of public debt rise (note that Greece prior to the bailout reached roughly 120% of public debt in 2011 - it's now gone down to French levels). Except for Sweden and Norway that fare much better than the rest, one continues to see an possible trade-off between public and private debt. Spain as is known faces particularly problematic levels of private debt (but note also the Netherlands and Denmark).

19 May 2013

Want to keep up with the research published on the welfare state? Try this resource

I've just compiled a netvibe dashboard that monitors the latest issues being published by the Academic Journals I follow

New paper on link between labour, central banks and EMU crisis

Transfer (2013), 19(1): 89–101.
Bob Hancke

This article examines the problems of the single currency in light of the organization of labour relations in the Member States and their interaction with monetary policies. Continental (western) Europe consists of two very different systems of employment and labour relations, roughly coinciding with ‘coordinated market economies’ in the north-west of the continent, and ‘Mixed Market Economies’ in the south. These differences in employment relations and wage-setting systems implied that, against the background of a relatively restrictive one-size-fits-all monetary policy in place since 1999, the north-west of the continent systematically improved its competitiveness, while the south lost competitiveness in parallel. Small differences between the two groups of countries at the start of EMU thus were accentuated and, against the background of low growth and an almost closed E(M)U economy, the northern coordinated market economies accumulated current account surpluses while the GIIPS (Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain) ran into severe balance of payments problems in 2010 and 2011.

07 May 2013

New Journal of European Social Policy Issue

This recent issue covers the introduction of patient choice in Sweden. Two articles discuss the effect of macroeconomic conditions and pre-existing welfare state institutions on demands for redistribution and preferences for welfare state policies, respectively. The effect of credit markets on homelessness and the temporarily of poverty are also investigated. Last but not least, the article by Marx and Picot looks at the preferences of precarious workers as compared to those in permanent employment, while Schmitt, C. and H. Obinger investigate the process of policy diffusion and interpendence for three welfare state policies.

Fredriksson, M., P. Blomqvist, et al. (2013). "The trade-off between choice and equity: Swedish policymakers’ arguments when introducing patient choice." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 192-209.

How do policymakers deal with the tension between choice and equity in healthcare? An analysis and critical examination of Swedish policymakers’ arguments when introducing legislated choice of primary care provider in 2010 shows that even when deciding on a reform with a potentially great impact on distribution of health resources, implications for equity were not systematically addressed. Effects with regards to current patterns of healthcare consumption in the population as well as existing inequalities in health outcomes were not adequately addressed. Neither was the primary are choice reform, which is based on the values of consumerism and individual choice, problematized in relation to current healthcare legislation such as the Health and Medical Services Act. Given that the values of equity and social solidarity have had such a prominent place in Swedish health policy and discourse in past decades, this is a surprising finding. In conclusion, we argue that because inequalities in health constitute one of the main challenges for public health today, the impact of healthcare reforms on equity should receive more attention in policymaking.

Jæger, M. M. (2013). "The effect of macroeconomic and social conditions on the demand for redistribution: A pseudo panel approach." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 149-163.

This paper analyses the effect of macroeconomic and social conditions on the demand for redistribution. Using a synthetic cohort design to generate panel data at the level of socio-demographic groups, analysis of fives waves of data from the European Social Survey (2002–2010) shows that differences across countries in macroeconomic and social conditions have an effect on the demand for redistribution. Consistent with theoretical expectations, economic growth generates a lower demand for redistribution, while higher income inequality generates a higher demand. By contrast, differences across countries in unemployment levels and social expenditure are unrelated to the demand for redistribution. The analysis also suggests that empirical results depend to a considerable extent on the assumptions underlying different methodological approaches.

Jordan, J. (2013). "Policy feedback and support for the welfare state." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 134-148.

How does the structure of social policy institutions shape the level of public support for the welfare state? The policy feedback literature predicts that highly inclusive welfare institutions generate larger bases of public support by shifting the focus away from redistribution and toward common market insecurities felt across classes, while more selective strategies erode support by highlighting the conflicts of interest imbedded in clearly redistributive social programs. This paper expands on existing research by adopting a disaggregated approach to measuring both welfare state structure and public support, uncovering important cross-program variations in public attitudes and welfare state design masked by traditional measures of universality and public support. This project applies this method to public opinion data in 17 advanced capitalist democracies across three policy areas: healthcare, pensions, and unemployment. The findings offer evidence of policy feedback effects.

Lux, M. and M. Mikeszova (2013). "The role of a credit trap on paths to homelessness in the Czech Republic." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 210-223.

This briefing paper aims to show the most common paths to homelessness in a post-socialist state: the Czech Republic. Homelessness in the Czech Republic is worthy of examination because the generous provision of social assistance and tenure security in this country has provided a more secure safety net against homelessness than many other EU member states: yet homelessness has still arisen. The theoretical approach applied in this paper attempts to move beyond the structure–agency debate in the homelessness literature by focusing on the characteristics that most homeless people share on their paths to homelessness. Simple associations among factors associated with homelessness cannot provide a definitive account of the causes of homeless; such data can, however, provide invaluable insights into the constellation of factors that are associated with the phenomenon of homelessness. This briefing paper reveals that the pervasiveness of consumer credit has often been a critical juncture on the pathway to homelessness in the Czech Republic, despite the assistance available from a strong welfare state.

Marx, P. and G. Picot (2013). "The party preferences of atypical workers in Germany." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 164-178.

Are party preferences of atypical workers distinct from those in stable employment? The welfare state literature debates this question, but very few empirical studies have been conducted. We examine the German case, being an example of a welfare state with strong social insurance traditions where the rise of atypical employment has been conspicuous. In particular, we test the argument that preferences of labour market outsiders may not differ because outsiders share households with insiders. We find that labour market status significantly affects party preferences. Compared with standard employees, atypical workers have stronger preferences for small left-wing parties. Living together with a labour market insider neutralizes these party preferences, but this type of household is not very common. Moreover, atypical workers differ from the unemployed by not participating less in elections than insiders. Therefore, it is expedient to distinguish between different types of labour market outsiders.

Schmitt, C. and H. Obinger (2013). "Spatial interdependencies and welfare state generosity in Western democracies, 1960–2000." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 119-133.

For many years comparative welfare state research has been afflicted with a sort of methodological nationalism in the sense that countries were treated as independent units. In line with the recent ‘spatial turn’ in comparative public policy studies, this paper examines with regard to three welfare state programmes whether, in the post-war period, the provision of social rights in 18 Western democracies was shaped by benefit generosity in other countries. We show that diffusion is present but varies by programme and over time. Rather surprisingly, we find that policy diffusion was particularly relevant during the Golden Age.

Snel, E., F. Reelick, et al. (2013). "Time and poverty revisited: A replication of Leisering and Leibfried." Journal of European Social Policy 23(2): 179-191.

In the late 1990s, the German sociologists Leisering and Leibfried (1999) argued that most poverty is of a temporary nature. In their poverty study in the German city of Bremen, Leisering and Leibfried found that more than half of all social assistance claimants were out of poverty within a year. Based on their work, individualization theorists such as Giddens and Beck argue that ‘for most people poverty is only a temporary experience’. This article replicates Leisering and Leibfried’s study using statistical data about social assistance claiming in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In doing so we find significant numbers of short-term claimants (about 30 percent), as well as surprisingly large numbers of long-term claimants. One in four Rotterdam social assistance claimants is poor for at least 5 years – more than twice as many as Leisering and Leibfried found in their study. We also show that recurrent benefit spells, for Leisering and Leibfried another typical feature of contemporary poverty, is only the exception in Rotterdam. Leisering and Leibfried (and sociologists such as Giddens and Beck in their footsteps) are wrong in claiming that short poverty experiences are typical for poverty in late-modern society. Persistent poverty is still present in our age and in our cities.

New Politics&Society Issue (June 2013)

Special issue on real Utopia

Ackerman, B. (2013). "Reviving Democratic Citizenship?" Politics & Society 41(2): 309-317.

Many of our inherited civic institutions are dead or dying. We need an ambitious reform program to revive democratic life. This essay advances a four-pronged “citizenship agenda”: (1) a campaign finance initiative granting each voter fifty “patriot dollars” to fund candidates and political parties of his or her choice; (2) a proposal for a new national holiday, Deliberation Day, held before each national election, enabling citizens to deliberate on the merits of rival candidates; (3) a system of federally financed electronic news-vouchers to permit professional journalism to survive the destruction of its traditional business model; and (4) a new form of citizenship inheritance, which provides $80,000 to all Americans as they start off life as adults. Working with collaborators, I have developed each of these initiatives at book length. This essay suggests how the “citizenship agenda” yields a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

04 May 2013

Think developed countries have more women in Parliament than the rest of the word? Think again.

The data in the table below (extract taken from this table) has been compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of information provided by National Parliaments by 1st April 2013.

Out of the top 30 countries, only a few - predominantly scandinavian countries - are present, namely: Sweden (4th), Finland (7th), Norway (11th) and Denmark (13th).

Iceland (10th), the Netherlands (14th) and Belgium (17th)  are other noteworhty exceptions. The US ranked 78th with 17.8% and 20% of women in the lower and upper houses, respectively. To put this position in perspective, that's below Kazakhstan, Iraq, or Lesotho (which is ranked just below France).

The UK is ranked 58th in a tie with Pakistan. In the EU, Hungary (119th) ranks particularly poorly, being ranked just after the Democractic Republic of Congo.

Of course, presence in parliament is not everything and does not necessarily correlate highly with other measures of gender equality (for other measures such as share of women on boards, see this great website by the OECD). That being said, I think it's hard not see it as an abysmal failure on the part of advanced economies to ensure gender equality in political representation.