Gøsta Esping-Anderson’s book, Social Foundations of Post-Industrial Economies provides an excellent introduction to the way we should be thinking about what a successful society looks like and how we should go about achieving it.
Published in 1999 some of the detailed statistical evidence may be outdated but his general observations and conclusions remain vital. His book is a study of the welfare regimes of various post-industrial economies with the goal of determining what works and why, and what lessons we can glean to reform regimes and better enable them to cope with new societal risk structures. He does not specifically deal with the risk of widespread technological unemployment due to the Rise of the Robots, but his work is easy to apply.
Esping-Anderson examines three varieties of welfare states, the conservative model (examples include Germany and Italy), the liberal model (the United States), and the Nordic model (Sweden, Norway, and Finland).
The conservative states stress the role of family in providing for social stability. Social policies emphasize the protection of the predominantly male bread-winner with strong job protections and pensions. The family’s responsibility is sometimes taken to the point where care of even an adult child in need is mandated by law.
The liberal welfare state places emphasis on the markets to provide opportunities for individuals to attain their own welfare. Deregulated and flexible labor markets, privatization, low-levels of state welfare assistance (a residual system) are emphasized.
The Nordic model places the emphasis on the state to provide for the welfare of its people. More exactly, it places the emphasis on the state to assure that the markets and the family units are able to function effectively in providing for the welfare of the people.
The practical differences of these approaches can be seen in the manners in which each responded to the changes wrought by deindustrialization.
The conservative states, with their strong pensions, tended towards promoting early retirement, a move which cleared the way for a new generation of workers (with more modern skill-sets) to enter the labor pool.
The liberal welfare states dealt with deindustrialization through market mechanisms, basically by tolerating the lowering or stagnation of worker’s wages.
The Nordic states responded with a policy known as “productivism.” This is the idea that the state must guarantee that each citizen has “the necessary resources and motivation to work (and that work is available).” The state will thus create a job if need be and/or subsidize job-training. No free-rides; everyone is encouraged and enabled to remain a productive member of society.
Esping-Anderson provides an analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of each approach which is far too much for us to go into here, but a couple of his conclusions deserve mention for the bearing they have on a possible post-capitalist social order.
One is the idea of institutional path dependencies. Societies are not going to change radically, despite exogenous pressures. The manner in which they are going to approach the solutions to new risk structures is going to be based on what they already know and do; what is already institutionalized. From this alone we can suggest that the social democratic approach of the Scandinavian countries provides a better base for the transition to a post-capitalist order. They are better postured to accept the idea of universal benefit distribution, for example. The market-based liberal models, and the family-oriented conservative models are going to suffer more pain as family resources run dry and market mechanisms fail.
This idea of path dependencies also echoes the historical materialist position that a new society is born out of the womb of the old, bearing all the traits of its predecessor as Marx wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program:
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.
A second echo is found in Esping-Anderson’s conclusion that the social-democratic promise of equality for all “here and now” will have to be walked-back a little bit. This is an important realization and we will devote a separate post to discussing it later but for now we note that even Marx understood that socialism does not equal economic equality for all. This may surprise some but Marx was very clear. A little later in Critique of the Gotha Program he discusses that fact that people are not equal (they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal, he writes) and so they will produce unequally in the workplace but even if everyone receives an equal share inequality will still result, as he explains:
[O]ne worker is married, another not; one has more children than another and so on and so forth. Thus with an equal output, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.
But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society [i.e. socialism] as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society.
We can easily add many other reasons why post-capitalist society will not be economically egalitarian — one family is more frugal than another, accumulated savings are passed down, etc., but the point is simple — economic equality “here and now” need not be a requisite of the next social order. It is enough, as Esping-Anderson concludes, if safeguards are put in place to assure social mobility; a mobility guarantee. No one should be left caught in a poverty-trap which diminishes their overall life chances.
These are only two of many valuable contributions Esping-Anderson’s work makes to the understanding of how to go about getting social policies right.