Category Archives: Political Economy

Debt forgiveness in the German mirror

The Economic Consequences of the 1953 London Debt Agreement

By Gregori Galofré-Vilà (Oxford), Martin McKee (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Chris Meissner (UC Davis) and David Stuckler (Oxford)

Abstract: In 1953 the Western Allied powers implemented a radical debt-relief plan that would, in due course, eliminate half of West Germany’s external debt and create a series of favourable debt repayment conditions. The London Debt Agreement (LDA) correlated with West Germany experiencing the highest rate of economic growth recorded in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. In this paper we examine the economic consequences of this historical episode. We use new data compiled from the monthly reports of the Deutsche Bundesbank from 1948 to the 1960s. These reports not only provide detailed statistics of the German finances, but also a narrative on the evolution of the German economy on a monthly basis. These sources also contain special issues on the LDA, highlighting contemporaries’ interest in the state of German public finances and public opinion on the debt negotiation. We find evidence that debt relief in the LDA spurred economic growth in three main ways: creating fiscal space for public investment; lowering costs of borrowing; and stabilising inflation. Using difference-in-differences regression models comparing pre- and post LDA years, we find that the LDA was associated with a substantial rise in real per capita social expenditure, in health, education, housing, and economic development, this rise being significantly over and above changes in other types of spending that include military expenditure. We further observe that benchmark yields on long-term debt, an indication of default risk, dropped substantially in West Germany when LDA negotiations began in 1951 and then stabilised at historically low rates after the LDA was ratified. The LDA coincided with new foreign borrowing and investment, which in turn helped promote economic growth. Finally, the German currency, the deutschmark, introduced in 1948, had been highly volatile until 1953, after which time we find it largely stabilised.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22557

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2016-09-04

Review by Natacha Postel-Vinay (LSE)

The question of debt forgiveness is one that has drawn increased attention in recent years. Some have contended that the semi-permanent restructuring of Greece’s debt has been counterproductive and that what Greece needs is at least a partial cancellation of its debt. This, it is argued, would allow both faster growth and a higher likelihood of any remaining debt repayment. Any insistence on the part of creditors for Greece to pay back the full amount through austerity measures would be self-defeating.

One problem with this view is that we know very little about whether debt forgiveness can lead to faster growth. Reinhart and Trebesch (2016) test this assumption for 45 countries between 1920-1939 and 1978-2010, and do find a positive relationship. However they leave aside a particularly striking case: that of Germany in the 1950s, which benefited from one of the most generous write-offs in history while experiencing “miracle” growth of about 8% in subsequent years. This case has attracted much attention recently given German leaders’ own insistence on Greek debt repayments (see in particular Ritschl, 2011; 2012; Guinnane, 2015).

Eichengreen and Ritschl (2009), rejecting several popular theories of the German miracle, such as a reallocation of labour from agriculture to industry or the weakening of labour market rigidities, already hypothesized that such debt relief may have been an important factor in Germany’s super-fast and sustained post-war growth. Using new data from the monthly reports of the Deutsche Bundesbank from 1948 to the 1960s, Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Martin McKee, Chris Meissner and David Stuckler (2016) attempt to formally test this assumption, and are quite successful in doing so.

By the end of WWII Germany had accumulated debt to Europe worth nearly 40% of its 1938 GDP, a substantial amount of which consisted in reparation relics from WWI. Some already argued at the time that these reparations and creditors’ stubbornness had plagued the German economy, which in the early 1930s felt constrained to implement harsh austerity measures, thus contributing to the rise of the National Socialists to power. It was partly to avoid a repeat of these events that the US designed the Marshall Plan to help the economic reconstruction of Europe post-WWII.

versailles-hitler

 

Marshall aid to Europe between 1948 and 1951 was less substantial than is commonly thought, but it came with strings attached which may have indirectly contributed to German growth. In particular, one of the conditions France and the UK had to fulfil in order to become recipients of Marshall aid was acceptance that Germany would not pay back any of its debt until it reimbursed its own Marshall aid. Currency reform in 1948 and the setting up of the European Payments Union facilitated this process.

Then came the London Debt Agreement, in 1953, which stipulated generous conditions for the repayment of half the amount due from Germany. Notably, it completely froze the other half, or at least until reunification, which parties to the agreement expected would take decades to occur. There was no conference in 1990 to settle the remainder.

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Galofré-Vilà et al. admit not being able to directly test the hypothesis that German debt relief led to faster growth. Instead, making use of simple graphs, they look at how the 1953 London Debt Agreement (LDA) led to lower borrowing costs and lower inflation, which comes out as obvious and quite sustained on both charts.

Perhaps more importantly, they measure the extent to which the LDA freed up space for social welfare investment. For this, they make use of the fact that Marshall aid had mainly been used for infrastructure building, so that the big difference with the LDA in terms of state expenditure should have been in terms of health, education, “economic development,” and housing. Then they compare the amount of spending on these four heads to spending in ten other categories before 1953, and check whether this difference gets any larger after the LDA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it does, and significantly so.

This way of testing the hypothesis that the LDA helped the German economy may strike some as too indirect and therefore insufficient. This is without mentioning possible minor criticisms such as the fact that housing expenditure is included in the treatment, not control group (despite the 1950 Housing Act), or that the LDA is chosen as the key event despite the importance of the Marshall Plan’s early debt relief measures.

Nevertheless testing such a hypothesis is necessarily a very difficult task, and Galofré-Vilà et al.’s empirical design can be considered quite creative. They are of course aware that this cannot be the end of the story, and they are careful to caution readers against hasty extrapolations from the post-war German case to the current Spanish or Greek situation. Some of their arguments have somewhat unclear implications (for instance, that Germany at the time represented 15% of the Western population at the time, whereas the Greek population represents only 2%).

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Perhaps a stronger argument would be that Germany’s post-war debt was of a different character than Greek’s current debt: some would even call it “excusable” because it was mainly war debt; it was not (at least arguably) a result of past spending excesses. For this reason, one may at least ask whether debt forgiveness in the Greek context would have the same — almost non-existent — moral hazard effects as in the German case. Interestingly, the authors point out that German debt repayment after the LDA was linked to Germany’s economic growth and exports (so that the debt service/export revenue ratio could not exceed 3%). This sort of conditionality is strangely somewhat of a rarity among today’s sovereign debt contracts. It could be seen as a possible solution to fears of moral hazard, thereby mitigating any differences in efficiency of debt relief emanating from differences in the nature of the debt contracted.

 

References

Eichengreen, B., & Ritschl, A. (2009). Understanding West German economic growth in the 1950s. Cliometrica, 3(3), 191-219.

Guinnane, T. W. (2015). Financial vergangenheitsbewältigung: the 1953 London debt agreement. Yale University Economic Growth Center Discussion Paper, (880).

Reinhart, C. M., & Trebesch, C. (2014). A distant mirror of debt, default, and relief (No. w20577). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Ritschl, A. (2011). “Germany owes Greece a debt.” in The Guardian. Tuesday 21 June 2011.

Ritschl, A. (2012). “Germany, Greece and the Marshall Plan.” In The Economist. Friday 15 June.

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Neoliberalism: A Cultural Social Construction

Crisis Without End: Neoliberalism in a Globalized Environment

by Richard N. Rambarran (University of Hyderabad)

Abstract: Since the 1970’s, both politically and theoretically, neoliberalism as an ideology has been on a persistent rise to the point where, in the twenty first century, it has garnered hegemonic dominance. Despite several recurring crises in countries since the ascendance of neoliberalism, we yet remain reluctant to point out the political economy philosophy as a root cause of the crises. Instead, many of the academics within Economics prefer to offer bouts of highly technical reasons for the downturn – this is especially true and almost solely applicable to those who practice within the ‘neoclassical’ conjecture of Economics. In a typical Marxian sense, one would have to look no further than the economic system to determine both economic and social outcomes of a country. What dictates that economic system however is the political philosophy of the leaders who guide the economic system – the policy makers. This paper attempts to show the neoliberal political philosophy, as the common thread for major crises within the last two decades. It also proposes a societal trinity for which change is driven through complex interactions among the political, economic and social spheres.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:pra:mprapa:67410

Circulated by nep-his on: 2015-10-25

Revised by: Stefano Tijerina

Richard Rambarran joins an emerging group of scholars that are spearheading an aggressive global criticism of modern capitalism, and particularly the impact that neoliberalism has had on its most recent methods of implementation within the international system. Thomas Picketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century has lead the way in recent times. Nevertheless Rambarran’s contribution to the discussion is welcomed because it points out that the economic political philosophy behind the social construction of neoliberal ideals is the determinant factor in preserving <status quo, even after numerous economic crises.

Richard Rambarran Research Fellow at The Social Economy Research Group (SERG)

From Rambarran’s point of view, the neoliberal principles have become an “ingrained” ideology fomented by economists, local politicians and bureaucrats, domestic and multilateral institutions, academic institutions, mass media, corporations, and the consumer.[1] He further argues that today’s mainstream professional economist has perpetuated this social construction using its mathematical and econometric technical rhetoric to distance itself not only from the public sphere but also from the critical role once played by the “Classical economists.”[2] The complacency in the professional sphere has permeated the public sphere, where the collective political and social conscience is more concerned in pursuing the possibility of “wealth and great opulence,” occasionally reacting to economic crises like the one in 2008 only to quickly return to the initial passive approach once individual financial issues are partially resolved.[3]

Rambarran centers on the 1997 East Asian crisis and the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown in order to illustrate how the economic political philosophy has come to dictate “the very mechanics of our lives” through its systemic and institutional framework. He argues that contrary to the views of many scholars that the rise of neoliberalism came with the emergence of political leaders Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher, the foundations of the political philosophy and its social construction emerged in the post Great Depression era.[4] The solutions to the 1997 and 2008 crises therefore represent a series of theoretical models constructed since the first modern global financial crisis in order to scientifically justify the perpetuation of neoliberalism.

'Well what a coincidence! I'm a financial regulator too!'

‘Well what a coincidence! I’m a financial regulator too!’

The ingrained idea that “human well-being and social welfare” are best advanced by the deregulation of the institutions, programs, and norms that once regulated the capitalist machine, seems to be an unquestionable thought. [5] To get to this social reality, argues Rambarran, classic liberal ideas of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the like had to be dismantled in order to neoliberalism to surge. According to Rambarran, neoliberalism is “not simply a minutely revised version of classic liberalism,” it is a new version of capitalism that reduces the role of the state to its minimal.[6] The business-government alliance that pushed neoliberalism forward after the 1930s slowly twisted the idea that “liberating individual and entrepreneurial freedoms and skills” through institutions, programs, and a normative systems “characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” were actually responsible for the debacle of the market system in 1997 and 2008, and that greater privatization of services and deregulation for the business sector was the only solution moving forward.[7] These are the principles of nation state building under globalization, the basic political economic structures of nations that welcome open market and free trade, the minimal parameters for participating in the global market system; ideas that, as indicted by Rambarran, are part of the subconscious decision making dynamic between politicians, the private sector, and consumers.[8]

The current realities of this “macroscopic trinity” indicate that the business class, defined by Rambarran as the “intellectual class,” heavily influences political, economic, and social perceptions of nation building under a globalized system.[9] An intellectual class responsible for the cultural social construction of neoliberal principles that originated in the industrial world during the first half of the twentieth century and that began to spread across the developing world after the Second World War.

Macroscopic TrinityNeoliberal economists obsessed with breaking the chains of state regulatory systems and interested in returning to the deregulated conditions of the pre Great Depression era used theoretical models to debunk Keynesian economics.[10] During the 1970s and 1980s neoliberal principles became the formula for stagflation in the highly developed countries, and the remedy for the increasing external debt crisis across the developing world. The effective release of the forces of the market justified the dismantling of the social welfare state and the institutional and programmatic bodies that awarded citizens levels of accountability within the triangular dynamic of government-business-constituent relationships across the world. Nationalist development models based on Import Substitution Industrialization were dismantled and replaced by the principles of deregulation, privatization, and the strengthening of private property rights.

According to Rambarran, the implementation of the neoliberal experiment across the world produced mixed results, but the ability of the intellectual class to market success stories through its propaganda machine in order to justify the long-term preservation and expansion of neoliberal principles across the world gave birth to the Asian miracle.[11] Foreign direct investment and the “inflow of speculative money” would be the driving force behind the miracle, as capitalists in the industrial world shifted their production and manufacturing operations to newly unregulated regions of the world while at the same time taking advantage of the liberalization of capital accounts, escaping the already fragile regulatory systems in their own nation states, and setting the tone for the initial stages of accelerated “neoliberal globalization.”[12] Once the “speculative bubble…popped” foreign investors quickly pulled their money from the region, decreasing confidence in the East Asian region.[13] The neoliberal experiment had revealed the need for regulatory systems in order to impede the emergence of new unregulated speculative markets across the world under a more interdependent global market system, but the reshuffling of capital back into the industrial economies allowed the neoliberal propaganda system to quickly market the success of Free Trade zones.

Crisis 1997 Rambarran misses the opportunity to explain the historical developments that took place between the Asian crisis of 1997 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis that pushed neoliberalism further into the collective subconscious. Discussions about the emergence of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the consolidation of the European Union would have allowed the author an opportunity to illustrate how neoliberal intellectuals engineered and marketed to their constituents the illusion of a globalized economy for the sake of the consumer and the domestic worker.

The author’s lack of historical evidence makes his argument less convincing. The 1997 and 2008 crises help illustrate how neoliberal forces are able to perpetuate their principles even after severe global economic, political, and social damage, but he is not able to explain how the intellectual forces within his “macroscopic trinity” were able to create the social cultural construction that turned neoliberalism into an unquestionable economic political philosophy.

For example how neoliberal economists such as Milton Friedman and Lauchlin Currie together with multilateral organizations engineered the expansion of neoliberalism to markets across the world. How marketing and public relations intellectuals such as Philip Kotler and Daniel Edelman perfected the use of mass media in order translate the principles of neoliberalism to consumers, distancing them from their role as constituents and shifting their agency toward the world of consumption. How the roles of politicians and bureaucrats was redefined by Thatcher and Reagan in order to reinvent the democratic relationship between representative and constituent, and how the educational system at all levels was reengineered in order to replicate and export neoliberal ideals across the world.

A more detailed explanation of the concepts behind his “social trinity” would have clarified the dynamics between the intellectual class, and political, economic, and social actors. Why is there a one-way communication dynamic between economic actors and society? Why is the communication between political and economic actors a one-way dynamic? And why is the intellectual class not present within the political, economic, and social realms but separate from them? I would argue that the success of the expansion of neoliberal thought is that they now represent government, economic policy, and the collective social conscience. It is why it is more prevalent then ever before to see private sector representatives running for office, managing government institutions, and redefining the nature of once sacred social institutions such as universities. It is not a phenomenon of the industrial world but a common trend across the global system.

References

Duménil, G. & Levy, D. “Neoliberal (Counter) Revolution.” In D. Johnston & A. Saad-Filho, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press, 2004, pp. 9-19.

Harvey, D. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Rambarran,R. “Crisis without End: Neoliberalism in a Globalized Environment Modeling the Historic Rise of Neoliberalism and its Systematic Role in Recent Economic Downturns,” Munich Personal RePEc Archive, October 22, 2015.

Palley, T. I. “From Keynesianism to Neoliberalism: Shifting Paradigms in Economics.” In D. Johnston & A. Saad-Filho, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader. London: Pluto Press, 2004, pp. 20-29.

Picketty, T. Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

[1] Rambarran, “Crisis without End”, p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] For more information see Harvey 2007, Palley 2004 and Dumeril & Levy 2004.

[5] Rambarran, 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Ibid., 10.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Ibid., 13.

The Neoliberal Model is not Sustainable but State Driven Models have not Proven to be Any Better: How About We Just Redistribute the Wealth?

State Versus Market in Developing Countries in the Twenty First Century

by Kalim Siddiqui (University of Huddersfield)(k.u.siddiqui@hud.ac.uk)

Abstract:
This paper analyses the issue of the state versus the market in developing countries. There was wide ranging debate in the 1950s and 1960s about the role of the state in their economy when these countries attained independence, with developing their economies and eradicating poverty and backwardness being seen as their key priority. In the post-World War II period, the all-pervasive ‘laissez-faire’ model of development was rejected, because during the pre-war period such policies had failed to resolve the economic crisis. Therefore, Keynesian interventionist economic policies were adopted in most of these countries.

The economic crisis in developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s provided an opportunity for international financial institutions to impose ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ in the name of aid, which has proved to be disastrous. More than two decades of pursuing neoliberal policies has reduced the progressive aspects of the state sector. The on-going crisis in terms of high unemployment, poverty and inequality provides an opportunity to critically reflect on past performance and on the desirability of reviving the role of the state sector in a way that will contribute to human development.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/peswpaper/2015_3ano96.htm

Revised by: Stefano Tijerina (University of Maine)

This paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-19. In it Kalim Siddiqui indicates that the global economic crisis that began in 2007 “provides an opportunity” to reconsider Keynesian interventionist models, thus “reviving the role of the state sector” for purposes of protecting the interests of the majority. Siddiqui centers his argument on the modern economic development experiences of the developing world, juxtaposing it with the experiences of advanced industrialized nations. He particularly emphasizes the economic development experiences of the United States and the United Kingdom, in efforts to advance the argument that Keynesian interventionist policies and protectionist agendas are instrumental in securing a transition into advance industrialization. He argues that the developing world needs to experience a similar transition to that of the UK and the US in order to achieve similar levels industrial competitiveness. However the neoliberal discourse promoted by the industrial powers and the multilateral system after World War Two, and the implementation of neoclassical liberal policies after the 1980s, impeded the developing world from moving in the right direction.

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Siddiqui begins the construction of his argument by providing a brief history of the modern economic development patterns of both the UK and the US. This lays the foundation for his main argument that developing nations should return to the Keynesian patters of economic development in order to achieve advanced levels of industrialization that will eventually allow them to correct present market failures, reducing unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation.

He points out that in the 1970s and 1980s the UK and US moved away from interventionist policies and adopted a neo-classical model of economic development in response to “corruption, favoritism, and other forms of self-seeking behavior,” that lead to the economic crisis of the times. This model would then be promoted across the international system by the economists of the World Bank and the IMF who found in the same neo-classical model an explanation for the failed Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies implemented across the developing world to cope with the crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.

Kalim Siddiqui

Kalim Siddiqui

What Siddiqui does not address is that the failure of the implementation of the ISI policies across the developing world were the direct result of the same corruption and self-centered tendencies of leadership that forced a move away from interventionist policies in countries like the UK and the US. I agree with Siddiqui that the structural changes introduced by the multilateral financial agencies did more damage than good, however I disagree with his idea that the developing world should return once again to Keynesian solutions, since the implementation of these structural adjustment programs were in fact forms of interventionism that catapulted most of these economies into debt.

Siddiqui then lays down a series of reasons why the role of the state should be reconsidered across the developing world, highlighting that greater interventionism would be more beneficial than an increasing role of the market system. He uses the recent success stories of state driven capitalist experiments such as China’s, Brazil’s, India’s, and Malaysia’s, disregarding the fact that these state driven models continue to be tainted with problems of corruption and self-rewarding management styles that are inefficient and wasteful. For example, he points out the success of Petrobras in Brazil, not following up on the fact that the state-run oil company is now under investigation for high levels of corruption that has sent its stock price in a critical downward spiral.

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At the end Siddiqui’s argument is debunked by more contemporary realities; including decreasing global unemployment patters, economic recovery, and the downfall of state run economies such as those that moved to the Left in Latin America during recent times. Moreover, the bailout policies implemented by the United States and the European Union during the peak of the latest financial crisis contradicts Siddiqui’s argument that neoliberal economies “do not countenance any economic intervention by the state.” I argue that interventionism is an integral part of the advancement of neoliberal agendas; the question that Siddiqqui should be asking is what degree of interventionism is ideal for the developing world under a global neoliberal reality that is inevitable to avoid?

Siddiqui’s work represents yet another criticism to neoliberal capitalism, centering on the agendas set by the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. It does not provide a convincing method or strategy for reviving state driven capitalism under an increasingly intertwined global economic system. It is rich in criticism but short of offering any real solutions through state interventionism. Current case studies that have returned to interventionist models, as in the case of Brazil or India, have failed once again to resolve issues of poverty and income inequality. I agree with the author’s conclusion that the implementation of neoliberal models across the developing world has distorted inequality and social justice even further but disagree with the simplistic solution of increasing state interventionism in the management of market driven economies for the sake of it. More so when the historic evidence indicates that the leadership across the developing world has consistently pursued self-interests and not the interests of the masses. From my point of view, the revival of interventionist models across the developing world will just complete the vicious cycle of history one more time, particularly now that the interests of private global actors has permeated the internal political economy decision making processes of the developing world. If in the early stages of the modern economic development of the developing world foreign political and business interests directly and indirectly penetrated local decision making, thanks in part to the intervention of the World Bank and the IMF as it was pointed out by Siddiqui, then it is inevitable to impede such filtrations under a global system, unless the nation state is willing to pay the high costs of isolationism.

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Siddiqui indicates that self-marginalization from the market system worked for the UK and the US, allowing them to strengthen their internal market and generate the technological and human capital capabilities necessary for advanced industrialization, but that was more than one hundred years ago when the globalization of the market had not reached the levels of sophistication of today. If these industrial powers were to try this same experiment today, the outcome would have been very different. In the past decade developing nations such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador have experimented with Siddiqui’s model and the results have been no different than the old experiments of Import Substitution Industrialization and other interventionist approaches of the post-Second World War Two era. Corruption, political self-interest, lack of internal will to risk investment capital, lack of infrastructure, lack of an internal sophisticated consumer market, the absence of technology and energy resources, and the inability to generate short-term wealth for redistribute purposes in order to guarantee the long-term projection of the interventionist model has resulted in failed revivals of the Keynesian model. It is the reason why Cuba is now willing to redefine its geopolitical strategy and reestablish relations with the United States; clearly the interventionist model is and was not able to sustain a national economy under a market driven international system.

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The solution lies inside the market system. It is futile to denigrate neoliberalism unless the developing world leadership is willing to construct a parallel market system, as once envisioned by Hugo Chavez, but we are far from that reality. Instead each nation state should reevaluate its wealth distributive and resource allocation policies, moving away from defense spending and refocusing on infrastructure, technology, human capital, health, and the construction of a solid and self-sustainable middle class. Van Parijs’s pivotal work, Real Freedom for All speaks to this idea, indicating that the solution to securing policies that center on what Siddiqui calls the majority, lies in capitalism and not in socialism. If, through a more equal distribution of capital across all sectors of society, capitalism is able to outperform any socialist or interventionist model, then there is no need to attack capitalism and its neoliberal ideas. A replication of this model across the developing world would boost economies into a more sophisticated level of economic development. More competition among states’ private sectors would lead to a more efficient international system, a dynamic that would be enhanced even further by less and not more government intervention. However, the current realities pointed out by Siddiqui indicate that political and corporate elites are not willing to redefine their views on capitalism and therefore we need greater government intervention for redistribute purposes. The redistribution of the pie is the only way to avoid Marx’s inevitable revolution, I agree with Siddiqui. But I do not trust the role of the state as a redistributive agent. I am more in favor of what Michael Howard calls “basic income capitalism” that secures sustainable expendable income in the hands of all consumers through the market system. The dilemma of interventionism continues to be at the forefront, yet it could easily be resolved by the market itself, as long as the actors, workers and owners of capital, are willing to redefine the outreach and potential of capitalism; as long as the social construction of freedom of capital is redefined?

References

Michael W. Howard, “Exploitation, Labor, and Basic Income.” University of Maine (work in progress).

Kalim Siddiqui, “State Versus Market in Developing Countries in the Twenty First Century,” Institute of Economic Research (working paper), submitted at VIII International Conference on Applied Economics, Poland, June 2015, p.1.

Van Parijs, P. Real Freedom for All: What (If Anything) Could Justify Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Help or Hindrance? Business and Welfare Policy Formation

Bringing Power Back In: A Review of the Literature on the Role of Business in Welfare State Politics

by Thomas Paster (Central European University and Max Planck Institute) (thomas.paster@eui.eu)

URL http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:153&r=his

Abstract What is the impact of business interest groups on the formulation of public social policies? This paper reviews the literature in political science, history, and sociology on this question. It identifies two strands: one analyzes the political power and influence of business, the other the preferences and interests of business. Since the 1990s, researchers have shifted their attention from questions of power to questions of preferences. While this shift has produced important insights into the sources of the policy preferences of business, it came with a neglect of issues of power. This paper takes a first step towards re-integrating a power-analytical perspective into the study of the role of business in welfare state politics. It shows how a focus on variation in business power can help to explain both why business interest groups accepted social protection during some periods in the past and why they have become increasingly assertive and averse to social policies since the 1970s.

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

Summary

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-19.  It is a meticulously review of a topic that is now becoming a subject of major debate in the developed world’s political culture.  At a time of austerity and belt-tightening in much of the western world in response to the economic crises of recent times, the welfare state has been targeted as an area where potential savings could be made, prompting arguments that the construct itself has become the scapegoat of austerity. Much of the attention in the recent literature on the welfare state has examined the political and social considerations behind the formation of a welfare system and its reform.  This paper hones in on an aspect that has received less attention: the role of business in the formation of welfare state policy.  Although there is still significant literature on this topic, the paper manages to draw the current research together into a coherent whole to present numerous interesting theories about the development and role of big business in public policy formulation that will be of interest to historians.

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Paster embeds his argument in the Marxist critiques of the 1970s that claimed much of the decisions concerning the level of influence exercised by business in state affairs depended on their relative power and individual preferences.  He cites the fact that the state’s dependence on private business for capital does give the latter, by default, a greater level of influence over public policy.  Furthermore, with the development of Marxist theory in the 1980s with the rise of Conservative policies, especially Thatcherism in the UK and Reagan’s economics in the USA, the ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach has led scholars to examine the development and evolution of the welfare state from a different perspective.  Many have now seen a link between the influence of business preferences and the level of support offered to policy options concerning welfare reform.  Moreover, the growth of interest groups in response to the increased size of the state has seen more actors playing a part in the negotiations of public policy, particularly state welfare.

Paster outlines how much of the literature has focused on the nature of power dynamics within the business community, and its relative influence over public policy.  In many nations, leaders of corporations form a major part of the power elite. It could be argued that this was why, in many developed nations there was significant opposition to the legislation proposed for a national minimum wage for low paid workers, primarily owing to the increased costs that this would bring.  This could also have influenced the greater outsourcing of work, primarily service-based industries and call-centre work to nations such as India.  Furthermore, he outlines how there is evidence that during times of economic difficulty, both the public and business are reluctant to see greater state intervention, and that a more cautious approach does led to a relative neglect in the nature of welfare provision for the most vulnerable in society.

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One of the most interesting arguments articulated by Pester in this paper is how big businesses prefer to increase the level of skills among its workforce as a means of protecting against future unemployment.  The argument focuses on how business leaders believe that highly-trained workers, in the event of finding themselves unemployed, would then be easily able to find alternative employment owing to their skills, thus reducing dependency on the state.  This has become more important with globalisation and the internationalisation of the economy.  Yet despite the growing importance of international trade, and the growing economic relationship with not only European countries but developing nations, this has also brought pressure on the development of coherent policies to assist workers.  While the idea of policy transfer could be regarded as positive, with nations comparing its social policy and potentially embracing new ideas in the aim of improving life for its lower paid citizens, international trade has also brought about increased regulation, thus increasing the influence of both businesses and the state over the development of public policy.  This, therefore, is a double-edged sword which carries numerous positive elements but also several complicating factors.

Critique  

This paper is very strong.  It shows a deep understanding of many of the issues concerning public policy development in many European countries, and the USA in the twentieth century.  In focusing on the role of big business in policy considerations, it approaches the issue of welfare reform and development from an interesting angle.

My observation on this paper would be that perhaps in trying to compare so many nations in one short article, perhaps the author is seeking to do too much.  In much of the comparative literature on the welfare state (albeit not from a business perspective) authors seek to compare two nations.  This paper has a much wider remit.  Furthermore, although the primary focus of this paper is on the role of business in the discussions concerning welfare state policy, I do feel that maybe it could benefit from some additional information, maybe only a paragraph or two, to help set the context.  The political culture concerning state welfare is different in each of the countries examined in the research.  The motivations and the political responses to the original formation of the welfare state were different among the respective politicians.  For example, it could be argued that in Britain, the earliest advocate of the welfare state in the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, did so because of his fear that if there was no provision for the working-class, it could result in a revolution.  For the USA, the growth in welfare programmes came much later with the development of Roosevelt’s new deal.  Furthermore, the development of such policies in a very politically-conservative nation was ravaged with difficulties.  For the British case in particular, I would encourage the author to consult the numerous works of Pat Thane on the topic, which place the formation of the welfare state into the wider political and international context.  While this is only a minor criticism of an extremely well-researched paper, placing this paper in the wider political context would help strengthen the argument and highlight even more the significance and value of this research to the wider academic community.

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References

Baldwin, Peter, The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases and the European Welfare State 1875-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Thane, Pat (ed.) The Origins of British Social Policy (London: Croom Helm ; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978).

Thane, Pat, The Foundations of the Welfare State, (Harlow: Longman, 1982).