The Moral Economy of Welfare States: Britain and Germany Compared

The Moral Economy of Welfare States: Britain and Germany Compared

The Moral Economy of Welfare States: Britain and Germany Compared

The Moral Economy of Welfare States: Britain and Germany Compared


This book investigates why people are willing to support an institutional arrangement that realises large-scale redistribution of wealth between social groups of society. Steffen Mau introduces the concept of 'the moral economy' to show that acceptance of welfare exchanges rests on moral assumptions and ideas of social justice people adhere to. Analysing both the institution of welfare and the public attitudes towards such schemes, the book demonstrates that people are neither selfish nor altruistic; rather they tend to reason reciprocally.


The drive to give is as important to an understanding of humanity as the desire to receive.

Jacques T. Godbout

The welfare state can be regarded as the major institutional arrangement of western societies that contributes to a socially accepted allocation of resources amongst the members of a given society. It is a means by which the political sphere re-balances intolerable inequalities and outcomes that have occurred within the market. For this purpose, a significant proportion of income must be transferred between individuals and social groups. Most welfare measures, therefore, are redistributive measures that aim at achieving a distribution of societal resources that is preferable to the primary distribution of the market. However, raising money for welfare objectives needs to be justified, and governments constantly have to convince their electorate that the interventionist activities are in accord with their interests.

Much of the theorizing about the welfare state has attributed the considerable degree of support for welfare states to the beneficial outputs of welfare schemes. Indeed, the expansionary course taken by most of the western welfare states since the Second World War has made the welfare arrangements attractive to the vast majority of people. the welfare state has established large-scale schemes that protect against life risks, supplement incomes when insufficiencies occur and provide independent means for distinct stages of life such as old age. However, welfare state activities do not only contribute to the provision of security, they also have a stake in the promotion of equality. Through taxation and income transfers from the better-off to the less well-off, the welfare state achieves an effective reduction of inequality so that it can be regarded as a system of stratification in its own right (Esping-Andersen 1990; Mayer and Müller 1989).

Since the exchange of cash and benefits between private households and the welfare state has a substantial impact on people’s income . . .

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