Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies

Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies

Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies

Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies

Synopsis

The Golden Age of postwar capitalism has been eclipsed, and with it seemingly also the possibility of harmonizing equality and welfare with efficiency and jobs. Most analyses believe the the emerging postindustrial society is overdetermined by massive, convergent forces, such astertiarization, new technologies, or globalization, all conspiring to make welfare states unsustainable in the future. Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies takes a second, more sociological and more institutional, look at the driving forces of economic transformation. What, as a result, stands out is postindustrial diversity, not convergence. Macroscopic, global trends are undoubtedly powerful, yet theirinfluence is easily rivalled by domestic institutional traditions, by the kind of welfare regime that, some generations ago, was put in place. It is, however, especially the family economy that hold the key as to what kind of postindustrial model will emerge, and to how evolving tradeoffs will bemanaged. Twentieth-century economic analysis depended on a set of sociological assumptions that, now, are invalid. Hence, to better grasp what drives today's economy, we must begin with its social foundations.

Excerpt

We social scientists have some difficulty keeping pace with history. Most of us were bred on the notion that this has been the century of victorious pluralism, social citizenship, and welfare capitalism. Yet, we now look back with heavy nostalgia on the decades of Golden Age Capitalism when all seemed to work better. Today it seems that one after another of those constituent elements that once assured harmony and happiness are sliding into irreversible crisis and decay. Europe will herald in the new century with 15-odd million unemployed; North America, with about the same number of low-wage workers. the welfare state, arguably one of modern history's most spectacular reformist achievements, may no longer be sustainable in the kind of economic order that is unfolding.

The problems that beset the welfare state are intimately connected with the malfunctioning of labour markets and families. Both function badly because they are in the throes of revolutionary change. the former is seemingly incapable of furnishing full employment and equality at the same time; the latter, once the nucleus of social integration, is now unstable and, in many countries, seemingly on a fertility strike. We are, in brief, entering a new political economy wracked with dilemmas and tradeoffs. Postindustrial society may hold the promise of many wonders, but equality is probably not among them. Hence our growing nostalgia for the Golden Age.

Still, how golden was it really? True, we can probably not expect the dizzying growth rates of the past to resurface, but we are none the less much richer today. Since the first opec oil crisis, the oecd countries have, on average, added 50 per cent to real per capita GDP; since 1960, a full 84 per cent. True, most advanced nations suffer from chronic mass unemployment, yet we should not forget that this occurs on the backdrop of much higher participation rates than in the past. Unlike before, we must now include women in a nation's full employment promise. and if we date the Golden Age to the 1950s and 1960s, that was surely not an epoch of mature welfare states and generous social rights. Most nations had yet to achieve anything close to universal coverage, benefit adequacy, or the levels of employment protection that today are taken for granted.

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