welfare

A very British disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 3:35am in

The desire to judge people's motives rather than addressing their needs is a “British disease”. We have been suffering from it for hundreds of years, cycling endlessly through repeated cycles of generosity and harshness. Each cycle ends in public outrage and an abrupt reversal: but the memory eventually fades, and the disease reappears in a new form. In this post, I outline the tragic history of Britain's repeated attempts to "categorise the poor".

For centuries, successive British social systems have recognised that there are people who cannot work, whether because they are too young, too old, too ill or too infirm. These people need to be provided for by others – in the first instance families, but where family support networks break down, support must be provided by the wider community.

And for centuries, successive British social systems have also recognised the existence of people who are perfectly capable of working but are not doing so. Most of these people are unemployed due to economic circumstances. But a small minority are not working because they don't want to. And an even smaller minority pretend to be ill, infirm or unfortunate in order to claim benefits, often while working on the sly.

In mediaeval times, most social support was provided by the Church, through the monasteries and the parishes. But after the dissolution of the monasteries, far more of this responsibility fell on the parishes. Welfare provision in Tudor times became patchy and inconsistent – good in some places, less good in others. Eventually, the Poor Laws of 1601 recognised and codified “good practice” in the care of those who could not provide for themselves. Poorhouses were established, in which the old, ill and infirm were cared for, and orphanages were created to house, feed and educate children.It all sounds very civilised.

But there was a darker side. People who were physically unable to provide for themselves were not the only people without work in Tudor times. Unemployment was already high at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and it was accompanied by persistently high inflation. A growing number of able-bodied people were either not working or not earning enough to support themselves.

There had been a history of vagrancy in England ever since the Black Death. Once feudal ties were loosened by the shortage of able-bodied workers, some people got into the habit of moving from place to place looking for the best-paid work. The first law controlling wages and restricting movement of labour appeared in 1349 and was reinforcedin 1351. But these were poorly enforced and ineffective. And they did not address the growing number of “sturdy beggars” travelling from place to place, supporting themselves with a mixture of casual work, petty crime and begging.

Such itinerant workers were regarded with fear and suspicion, much as modern-day “travellers” are. The first law outlawing “wandering” appeared in 1388. Initially the punishment amounted to public humiliation: the offender was to be put in the stocks until he could persuade someone to pay for him to return to his “hundred”.

Yet many wanderers were repeat offenders: as fast as they were sent back to their hundreds, they left again. There is little doubt that to start with, many were simply migrating around the country in search of better-paid work, while others were professional beggars (and in the case of women, prostitutes) who knew they could make more money in a place where they were not known – rather like today's homeless man in a doorway, accompanied by obligatory dog, who takes the Tube back to his flat in Mill Hill at the end of a successful day's begging*. But once unemployment started to rise in Tudor times, their ranks were swelled by men, women and children who were genuinely unable to find steady work.

The trouble was that no-one distinguished between the genuinely unemployed and the professional vagrants. Punishments for vagrancy became increasingly harsh: in 1530, the Vagabonds Act licensed begging by the old and infirm, but provided for any able-bodied person found wandering outside their hundred to be “whipped until bloody” then forcibly returned to their hundred and compelled to work. The only people excused from this were heavily pregnant women and children under seven.

The legislation was strengthened in 1536, when provision was made for mutilation, imprisonment or execution of repeat offenders. And in 1547, a law was passed allowing for enslavement of vagrants. These laws proved too much for the magistrates: neither law was ever enforced. The 1547 law was repealed in 1550, and the death penalty for vagrancy was abolished in 1597. Imprisonment was as far as magistrates would go. Thus were born the first “workhouses”.

They weren't called workhouses at that time. They were known as “houses of correction”. The idea was that “sturdy beggars” were choosing not to work and therefore had a bad work ethic, which needed to be “corrected”. This was done by imposing hard physical work and a spartan regime.

The Poor Laws codified this distinction. Poorhouses were for the “deserving poor” - those who, through no fault of their own, were incapable of working. “Houses of correction” were for the “undeserving poor” - those who were perfectly capable of working but were choosing not to do so.. But not many of the unemployed actually ended up in houses of correction. Belatedly, Poor Law legislators realised that unemployment was not necessarily wilful, and so chose to support the majority of unemployed with “outdoor relief”, or what we would now call unemployment benefit.

“Outdoor relief” was originally introduced to support agricultural labourers suffering seasonal unemployment. Usually it involved some form of workfare, which was supposed to be socially useful but unfortunately included such beneficial activities as parking the unemployed on benches and leaving them there all day. Finding useful work for the unemployed to do was not always easy for parish administrators in times of high unemployment: modern proponents of a countercyclical job guarantee system might like to take note. They also faced the problem known as “hysteresis”, where the skills of the unemployed degenerate over time.

All manner of creative solutions to the twin problems of unemployment and hysteresis were adopted. The so-called “labour rate” was a property tax specifically used to fund the employment of agricultural labourers. The “roundsman” system was a job guarantee system funded by parishes to ensure that all agricultural labourers were productively employed: it depressed wages, but at least it kept people busy. Philanthropists, too, did their bit to relieve unemployment: one clergyman with more money than sense even built a completely useless tower near Rothbury, Northumberland, purely to keep local stonemasons occupied. And the Speenhamland system of income support attempted to ensure that periods of unemployment and under-employment coupled with high inflation did not leave families struggling to afford bread.

The Poor Laws were in many ways a benevolent institution, reversing the harshness of Tudor times. But the cost of all this assistance grew higher and higher as the population increased in the Industrial Revolution, raising concerns about its affordability. And there was a growing belief that supporting people with benefits destroyed people's incentive to work and was therefore a bad idea from both an economic and, more importantly, moral point of view. Rather than discouraging work with benefits, therefore, people should be compelled to work, if necessary with the threat of starvation.

Driven by both moral and economic concerns, the Old Poor Laws were replaced in 1834with a new systemdesigned to ensure that people took responsibility for providing for themselves and their families. No more were parishes to provide unemployment benefits or income support (although in practice many continued to do so). No longer was there to be any attempt to distinguish between those who would not work and those who could not. Poorhouses and houses of correction merged to create a single institution – the workhouse. And into the workhouse went the old, the ill, the infirm, widows, orphans, the unemployed and their families.

Conditions in workhouses were deliberately harsh. It was believed that “work should pay”, and therefore workhouses should be a last resort for the desperate. Work itself was believed to be virtuous. So workhouses provided just that – work. Hours and hours of it. Pointless, boring, demeaning work such as breaking stones, picking oakum or – stupidest of all – walking a treadmill. The regime was harsh, food was basic and there was no leisure time. You were not in a workhouse to enjoy yourself. Nor were you there to be cared for if you were incapable of work: the old concept of the benevolent poorhouse had gone. Everyone, old, young, ill, infirm, widows and unemployed, were subject to the same regime. Regardless of the circumstances, you were in a workhouse because you had committed the crime of worklessness. There were no mitigating factors.

Because it was believed that worklessness was caused by moral defect, steps were taken to prevent such moral degeneracy from spreading. People who entered workhouses often died there. Children were separated from their parents, often never to see them again. And husbands and wives were separated, usually permanently.

And yet, for all their harshness, Victorian workhouses had benefits. They provided basic healthcare and education, which many people “on the outside” could not afford. This rudimentary safety net made them particularly attractive to the old and those with children. Because of this, they failed in their basic aim, which was to force everyone to support themselves.

The Victorian period was a time of bizarre contradictions: of appalling cruelty inflicted with the best of motives, and of real social improvements coupled with grinding poverty for far too many. The foundation of the modern welfare state was laid during that time, as campaigners and politicians genuinely concerned about the hardships of the poor enacted legislation to improve their lot.

But the moral beliefs that drove both the harsh treatment of vagrants in the 16th century and the unintended cruelty of the Victorian workhouse system persist to this day.

The idea that “work must pay” encourages politicians to make claiming benefits extremely difficult for the unemployed and – more worryingly – for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity, just as in Victorian times, workhouse conditions were made deliberately harsh to discourage people from entering them.

Politicians castigate “generational worklessness”, promoting the idea that a tendency to worklessness is somehow inherited, passed on from parents to children. It was this idea that led to the brutal separation of families in the workhouses.

Above all, there remains a strong belief in the moral virtue of work. Work is indeed important for human dignity, so making it possible for people to work is important: but in what way mind-numbingly boring, pointless and demeaning work is dignifying and virtuous is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, the idea that people should be forced to do basic work to “earn” their benefits – even if their time might be better spent looking for a job that actually uses their skills - is electorally popular.

Underlying this lies the unwarranted assumption that all jobs are intrinsically of value and therefore anyone who turns down work because it is poorly paid, socially useless and utterly boring is lazy. It was this idea that led to workhouse inmates being forced to work long hours in dreary, pointless jobs. Today, we impose benefit sanctions on people who turn down the dreary, pointless jobs we assign to them in the name of “work experience”. Giving it a different name doesn't change its nature. It's the workhouse work ethic all over again.

It is perhaps understandable that we feel angry when we see people we think should be working but aren't. And it is also understandable that when times are hard, we resent paying benefits to those we feel don't deserve them. I suppose the anger that we feel towards those we regard as “scroungers” and “shirkers” will never go away. But categorising the poor is not only difficult – it is harmful, not to the shirkers and scroungers, but to the genuinely deserving. And it is also economically damaging for society as a whole.

Compelling people to work depresses wages for everyone. Harsh treatment of the workless enables employers to bid down wages to the floor in the certain knowledge that people will accept any work, at any price, rather than face the consequences. In Victorian times, fear of the workhouse depressed wages on the outside, forcing workhouses to respond by making conditions inside even worse. There was a race to the bottom in grimness which culminated in the famous Andover workhouse case, where starving inmates were reduced to eating the bones they had been assigned to grind down to make fertilizer. Today, we withdraw unemployment benefits from people who refuse even unpaid “work”. Is it any wonder that real unskilled wages have been falling?

Falling wages mean reduced demand in the domestic economy and lower tax revenues. If there are in-work benefits, falling wages also mean higher benefit bills. The “roundsman” system resulted in unsustainable benefit bills, as employers under-employed at market rates in the knowledge that they could pay less for the “reserve army” of unemployed labourers auctioned off by the parishes. These days, we prevent Dutch auctions in unskilled labour by imposing minimum wages. Ostensibly, this is to “make work pay”: but as benefit withdrawal for people on minimum wages can mean marginal tax rates of 100% or more, work at the minimum wage may not actually pay at all, though it does limit the benefit bills. But we haven't addressed the root cause of the problem: because we still subscribe to Victorian ideas that people will prefer to live on benefits than work to improve their lot, we are still – nearly two hundred years later – trying to compel people to work. The result is spiralling regulation and intervention in labour markets to limit the race to the bottom that such compulsion causes. We have learned nothing from our history.

But worst of all, using rules and sanctions to compel the genuinely work-shy to work diverts attention and resources away from those who really need help. And it unfairly stigmatises the vast majority of those who are not working, or who are not working as many hours as we think they should, whether through unemployment, sickness or disability. Study after study has shown that in general, people want to work. The problem is that suitable jobs aren't always available. And yet there remains a prevalent view, even among people who should know better, that people must be compelled to work, or to work harder, with harsh treatment. But today's sanctions for those who won't or can't work are mild compared to the punishments of old: why should they be any more successful? We would do better to concentrate our attention on helping those who genuinely want to work to find fulfilling, productive and well-paid jobs.

And we should also stop trying to decide whether someone “deserves” social support. We have been trying to distinguish between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor for eight hundred years, and we are no better able to make that judgement now than we were in the fourteenth century, or the sixteenth, or the nineteenth.

It is time to give up this fruitless attempt to judge people's motives. Simply provide everyone with a basic income so that they can afford to live, then let them get on with whatever they want to do.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Related reading:

Rolling out Universal Credit - National Audit Office
Productivity and Employment - Coppola Comment

* I do not mean to suggest that all homeless beggars in London are frauds. But we should recognise that professional begging exists today just as it did in the fourteenth century. Some things never change.

Image is The Andover Bastille, a cartoon from the time of the Andover case. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This post was originally published on PieriaView in 2014, under the title "Categorising the Poor". 

Ending the cycle of violence: the youth-led bike movements of London challenging gang culture today

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/04/2018 - 12:45am in

image/jpeg iconbikesup.jpg

A look at the recent surge in levels of gang related violence and deaths of young people in working class, BME areas of London , and the youth-led movements growing in response to it.

The deaths at the hands of gang crime in London are not mere tragedy, they're the product of state sanctioned violence.

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Universal Basic Income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/04/2018 - 11:57pm in

image/jpeg iconUBI.jpg

UBI is gaining traction amongst the capitalist class because it presents a last-ditch ploy to maintain ‘social peace’ and undermine a collective working class fight back in the economic turbulence to come. Not so much a “utopia for realists” as a dystopian reformist panacea in the face of declining ‘economic growth’, wages, services and general quality of life.

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Eviction Data Base shows we have a housing crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/04/2018 - 1:44am in

I am posting this NPR Fresh Air radio article here because it talks about a part of our society that has not been talked about much.  When it comes to discussion of taxation, social programs, how our economy works, the basic premise of free market misses an awful lot. From the page: For many poor […]

EUROPE: European Social Survey (ESS) reveal findings about attitudes toward Universal Basic Income across Europe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/01/2018 - 10:00pm in

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News, Europe, welfare

Map of Europe. Credit to: Flickr   The European Social Survey (ESS) has published its 2016 Round 8 results, which include, for the first time in its history, a polling question asking participants to express their attitude to the hypothetical introduction of a basic income scheme in society.   The 34,604 participants across 18 European countries were asked whether, overall,

The post EUROPE: European Social Survey (ESS) reveal findings about attitudes toward Universal Basic Income across Europe appeared first on BIEN.

The Role of Money in Social Life: Morality and Power in the World of the Poor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 08/01/2018 - 4:37am in

by Ariel Wilkis*

“Perhaps behind the coin is God.” — Jorge Luis Borges, The Zahir (1949) 

My book The Moral Power of Money: Morality and Economy in the Life of the Poor (Stanford University Press, 2017) offers a new focus for interpreting the multiple power relations that configure the world of the poor. It analyzes heterogeneous money exchanges among the urban poor in Buenos Aires and regards how the money circulates on formal, informal and illegal markets, through welfare and NGO assistance, and around political, religious and family ties. Along this path, the moral dimension of money plays a critical role in the production of economic, class, political, gender and generational bonds. In an innovative dialogue that includes Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of power and the sociology of money of Viviana Zelizer, this book proposes the concept of moral capital to interpret the connections between money, morality and power. This sociology allowed us to understand that money is more like a puzzle comprised of several pieces. The concept of moral capital allows reveals that the pieces of money are shaped by ideas and moral feelings, and that each of these pieces differs from the others. The dynamic of these pieces—a dynamic involving hierarchies, tensions and contradictions—challenges the definition and the negotiation of people’s status and power in specific social orders. This research explores the roles of money that do not appear among its functions in economy textbooks. Along the way, we hit upon subjects such as hierarchy, domination, status and competition. In short, the proposal of this book is to build a toolbox based on the moral sociology of money to understand the role money plays in social life today.
The Moral Power of Money morality and economy in the life of the poorIn Argentina and in other parts of the world, the capitalist credit market has expanded to play a key role in the economic lives of the poor. The financialization of the economy shapes the economic life of the poor, creating spheres for distinction and moral domination. The poor must make an effort to have their virtues recognized in order to access credit. By examining how consumer credit began expanding to low-income sectors in 2003, chapter one unveils the moral hierarchies rooted in the circulation of lent money.  This chapter shows the moral ubiquity of money lent in heterogeneous situations, both formal and informal where money circulates. It also reveals how moral capital becomes a guarantee that sustains the power relations at the core of these situations. For those with scarce economic and cultural assets, the daily management of finances involves fighting to have their values acknowledged. Moral capital is their passport. However, like all forms of acknowledgment, it is rare and thus can become a form of domination that some are forced to accept in order to access the material benefits capitalism has to offer.
The chapter two analyzes how the underground economy operates as a moral space of income. This exploration will reveal the dynamics of questioning and legitimizing what has to be done to earn money. Therefore, the concept of moral capital is a useful instrument for understanding how this piece circulates or is taken out of circulation in response to a moral assessment of people’s actions. Having moral capital is the way in to these economic transactions that are not regulated by law. Informal and illegal markets are moral spaces where the legitimacy of money earned comes into play. To get involved in these transactions, moral hierarchies are established among participants and they are the also the prerequisites for successful participation.
The conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become the new paradigm of the struggle against poverty. These programs have progressively expanded to around thirty countries in the region that has come to be known as the Global South. The expansion of CCT programs changed the household budgets of the poor and became a focus of public debate. The use of money donated by the State became a way to morally discredit the poor. Money donated to the poor instantly becomes a source of suspicion. To understand this, the chapter three reconstructed the place of money donated by the state in different hierarchies of money. This chapter identifies the different strategies individuals use to elude the biases associated with this type of money such as stigma cleansing rituals, exclusion strategies and silence in response to such judgments. Beyond the efforts to avoid the stigma associated with donated money, the reconstructed scenes show how monetary hierarchies uphold power relations among those who have the authority to judge and those who must acquiesce to such biases.
Through the processes of democratization in Argentina (and most of Latin America) that began at the beginning of the 1980s, political scientists and sociologists began examining money in political life through the financial of political parties and the political clientelism. The chapter four goes beyond a narrative of money’s instrumental use in politics. Has the monetization of political activities dissolved values, commitments, and loyalties among the poor? Is this corruption or an ethical exchange among people who lack cash but possess moral capital? This chapter explores how politics involves power relations that can be understood through the moral dimension of money. This chapter shows how residents of Villa Olimpia, a villa miseria (slum), made political money the accounting unit to acknowledge the fulfillment of political obligations that bind leaders and their followers together in relationships of power. To put it more succinctly, this community places political money at the core of its collective life.
The chapter five narrates the competition between political and religious leaders of Villa Olimpia. It shows how these power struggles are rooted in the accumulation of moral capital associated with the pieces of money. Both religious and political networks create social distinctions among their members. While circulating, political and sacrificed money carry a series of social orders and hierarchies of money that often overlap. Each piece is indecipherable outside of the hierarchy of money and at the same time projects a social hierarchy. Between the two pieces, there is fiery competition for the range of objects and people involved. These two puzzle pieces, regulated by specific systems of feelings and perspectives, compete with one another.
The previous chapters explore how money produces political hierarchies as it circulates. The last one presents the logic at work when money circulates in the domestic sphere. It explores how the social order of the family is rooted in money. The pieces of money produce a hierarchy among family members (fathers and sons, husbands and wives) to determine each family’s ranking in the social order of the neighborhood. The different pieces of money (with their hierarchies, tensions, conversions) form a unit that allows us to observe and understand the family universe. On the one hand, they help us understand intergenerational relations. The parents instill the value of safeguarded money in their children. This piece of money shows how people create and recreate the family social order in the sphere of money, which involves both mutual assistance and conflicts, helping complete family projects or tearing them apart. On the other hand, they help us understand gender relations as well. Safeguarded money provides a piece of evidence that applies to all the pieces. Its circulation carries gendered obligations; men and women are judged based on whether they meet these obligations. Poor women are viewed positively when they safeguard their households both emotionally and economically. In the hands of women money had to be used to guarantee family continuity. Any other use of the money would be questionable, transforming the safeguarded money into suspicious money.
The contributions from the moral sociology of money stem from an ethnographic reconstruction of the everyday life of poor people who live in Villa Olimpia. In this work, I identified and assembled the pieces of money that best captured the dynamics of solidarity and conflict that characterized social bonds. However, the book takes the arguments, concepts and empirical evidence presented in the hope of reimagining economic sociology (Aspers, Dodd and Anderberg 2015) outside Villa Olimpia and the world of the poor. The moral sociology of money that I propose is a theoretical and methodological toolbox that can be applied to other social worlds, establishing bridges with other areas of knowledge in sociology.
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* Ariel Wilkis is a researcher at the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and Co-Director of the Center for Social Studies of Economics at the National University of San Martín, Argentina. 

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Strange bedfellows

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 26/08/2017 - 4:43pm in

Via MacroBusiness, here's the TL;DR of the Business Council of Australia's submission to a 2012 Senate inquiry into social security allowances:

  • "The rate of the Newstart Allowance for jobseekers no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy and may now be so low as to represent a barrier to employment.
  • "Reforming Newstart should be part of a more comprehensive review to ensure that the interaction between Australia’s welfare and taxation systems provides incentives for people to participate where they can in the workforce, while ensuring that income support is adequate and targeted to those in greatest need.
  • "As well as improving the adequacy of Newstart payments, employment assistance programs must also be reformed to support the successful transition to work of the most disadvantaged jobseekers."

Not only did the BCA's confederacy of Scrooges suffer unaccustomed pangs of sympathy, the Liberal Party senator chairing the inquiry also agreed that Newstart is excessively miserly. However, he failed to recommend raising the allowance, saying:

"There is no doubt the evidence we received was compelling. Nobody want's [sic] to see a circumstance in which a family isn't able to feed its children, no one wants to see that in Australia. But we can't fund these things by running up debt."

Sigh. (Here we go…) There is no need to "fund these things", whether it be by "running up debt" or any other means. The Federal Government creates money when it spends. We, as a country, run out of the capacity to feed our children when we run out of food. We cannot run out of dollars, since we can create the dollars without limit.

The government does however, at the moment, have a purely voluntary policy of matching, dollar-for-dollar, all spending with government bond sales. There's no good reason for this; as Bill Mitchell says, it's just corporate welfare. Even so, selling bonds is not issuing new debt. Bonds are purchased with RBA credits (or "reserves", if you prefer). The purchasing institution simply swaps a non-interest-bearing asset (reserves) at the RBA for an interest-bearing one (bonds), still at the RBA. It's just like transferring some money from a savings account to a higher-interest term deposit account at a commercial bank; do we say that this is a lending operation? Of course not.

There is no fiscal reason why the government should punish the unemployed to the extent that they become an unemployable underclass. Even if we are generous and assume the good senator and his colleagues on the inquiry are just ignorant about how the economy works, we are still bound to conclude that there must be some (not so ignorant) people in government, who do want to see people suffering for no just reason.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 - 5:22pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 15/02/2017 - 5:34pm in

I'm ranting altogether too much over local "journalism", and this comment introduces nothing new to what I've posted many times before, but since the Advocate won't publish it:

Again I have to wonder why drivel produced by the seething hive mind of News Corp is being syndicated by my local newspaper. This opinion comes from somebody who appears to be innumerate (eight taxpayers out of ten doesn't necessarily - or even very likely - equal eight dollars out of every ten) economically illiterate, and empirically wrong.

Tax dollars do not fund welfare, or any other function of the federal government. Currency issuing governments create money when they spend and destroy money when they tax. "Will there be enough money?" is a nonsensical question when applied to the federal government. As Warren Mosler puts it, the government neither has nor does not have money. If you work for a living, it is in your interest that the government provides money for those who otherwise wouldn't have any, because they spend it - and quickly. Income support for the unemployed becomes income for the employed pretty much instantly. Cutting back on welfare payments means cutting back on business revenues.

And the claim that the "problem" of welfare is increasing in scale is just wrong. Last year's Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report shows dependence on welfare payments by people of working age declining pretty consistently since the turn of the century. This opinion piece is pure class war propaganda. None of us can conceivably benefit in any way from pushing people into destitution in the moralistic belief that they must somehow deserve it.

Sustainability and the political economy of welfare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2016 - 10:00am in

Welfare is commonly understood in socio-economic terms of equity, highlighting distributive issues within growing capitalist economies. In times when the unequal distribution of wealth in the ‘advanced’ capitalist world has returned to levels of the 19th century, the question of whether we can and should ‘afford the rich’ is indeed central. The traditional response of welfare researchers – that issues of inequality can be solved by redistributing the primary incomes of capital and labour within economically growing economies – however, is not only difficult to achieve in an increasingly unfettered global capitalism but is also controversial. While GDP, income growth and rising material standards of living are normally not questioned as political priorities, there is growing evidence that Western production and consumption patterns and the associated welfare standards are not generalizable to the rest of the planet if environmental concerns are to be considered. For that to happen we would indeed need four to five Earths.

Koch sustainability welfare

In an attempt to take planetary boundaries such as climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss seriously, our new book Sustainability and the Political Economy of Welfare discusses the implications for ‘the’ economy and associated welfare standards. It raises the issue of what would be required to make welfare societies ecologically sustainable. In doing so, we regard the current financial, economic and political crisis and the corresponding recalibrations in Western welfare state institutions as an impetus to also considering environmental concerns. We are furthermore concerned with the main institutional obstacles to the achievement of sustainable welfare and wellbeing (especially the social structures of global finance-driven capitalism), how these could feasibly be overcome, and how researchers can assist policy-makers and activists in promoting synergy between economic, social and environmental policies that are conducive to globally sustainable welfare systems.

These are complex issues that tend to overstretch the terms of reference of single disciplines. My co-editor Oksana Mont and I felt accordingly privileged to have the opportunity to assemble an interdisciplinary team of researchers from five Lund University faculties as well as Kate Soper, Hubert Buch-Hansen and Ian Gough, who wrote the preface, and to work together for eight months at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies. We subdivided the book into three parts: conceptual issues of sustainable welfare, policies towards the establishment of sustainable welfare and emerging practices of sustainable welfare in countries such as France, the US, Sweden and China.

Our concept of sustainable welfare attempts to integrate the two previously separate disciplines of welfare and sustainability research. Taking environmental limits seriously in welfare theorising means, first of all, to ask whose welfare should be met. Distributive principles underlying existing welfare systems would need to be extended to include ‘non-citizens’, those affected in other countries and future human beings. Hence, sustainable welfare is oriented towards the satisfaction of human needs within ecological limits, from the intergenerational and global perspective. It is only at global level that thresholds for matter and energy throughput as well as for greenhouse gas emissions can be determined in order to effectively mitigate global environmental challenges such as climate change. At the same time, these biophysical conditions and global thresholds delineate the room for manoeuvre within which national and local economies can evolve and within which welfare can be provided. This suggests a new mix of private, state, commons and individual property forms with a much lesser steering role for the market than at present.

Sayer afford the richIn the policy-oriented second part of the book, several authors place emphasis on the detrimental effects of the financial system within the international political economy and highlight various degrowth visions of practical transformation strategies that could frame more specific policy packages. Here, research has a potentially vital role to play but can only do so in close dialogue with diverse societal actors – particularly if it produces insights into the mechanisms, groupings of actors and their institutional embedding as well as into the ways in which governments and governance networks may support voluntary and civic bottom-up initiatives. If sustainable welfare is going to be practiced at all, then it will most likely be in different ways in different countries due to their diverse points of departure in terms of the institutional particulars of market coordination and welfare systems. While research on the potential diversity of future welfare systems is still in its infancy, it is important to explore the opportunities and potentials that exist within current welfare systems since these must be built upon in any move towards sustainable welfare.

Part III of the book argues that a potential opportunity for the establishment of sustainable welfare lies in the diversity of perceptions about the ‘good life’ and the relationship between individuals and governments in initiating transformative processes and legitimizing sustainable lifestyles. People are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the consumer culture due to its growing negative side effects such as time scarcity, high levels of stress, traffic congestion and the increasing displacement of other pleasures of life and wellbeing through the shopping mall culture. We may already find seeds of alternative visions and practices in craft movements, the service economy, socio-ecological enterprises and forms of collaborative consumption. A ‘slower’ life and more free time should not be seen as a threat to the ‘Western way of life’ but as sources of individual and communitarian wellbeing, genuine individual fulfilment and opportunities for greater involvement with various social networks that have the potential of improving social relations and creating trust. This could also facilitate to breaking the link between resource-intensive economic growth and hegemonic perceptions of societal ‘progress’ – and to ending the monopoly of the prevalent consumer culture over alternative definitions of wellbeing and the ‘good life’.

The post Sustainability and the political economy of welfare appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Government Resurrects Four Week Wait for Welfare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/09/2015 - 11:07am in

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Senate, welfare

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