The Left Divided: The Development and Transformation of Advanced Welfare States

The Left Divided: The Development and Transformation of Advanced Welfare States

The Left Divided: The Development and Transformation of Advanced Welfare States

The Left Divided: The Development and Transformation of Advanced Welfare States

Synopsis

Why do some countries construct strong systems of social protection, while others leave workers exposed to market forces? In the past three decades, scholars have developed an extensive literature theorizing how hegemonic social democratic parties working in tandem with a closely-allied trade union movement constructed models of welfare capitalism. Indeed, among the most robust findings of the comparative political economy literature is the claim that the more political resources controlled by the left, the more likely a country is to have a generous, universal system of social protection. The Left Divided takes as its starting point the curious fact that, despite this conventional wisdom, very little of the world actually approximates the conditions identified by mainstream scholarship for creating universal, generous welfare states. In most countries outside of northern Europe, divisions within the left-within the labor movement, among left parties, as well as between left parties and a divided union movement-are a defining feature of politics. The Left Divided, in contrast, focuses on the far more common and deeply consequential situation where intra-left divisions shape the development of social protection. Arguing that the strength and position taken by the far left is an important and overlooked determinant of social protection outcomes, the book presents a framework for distinguishing between different types of left movements, and analyzes how the distribution of resources within the left shapes party strategies for expanding social protection in theoretically unanticipated ways. To demonstrate the counterintuitive effects of having the far-left control significant political resources, Watson combines in-depth case studies of Iberia with cross-national analysis of OECD countries and qualitative comparative analyses of other divided lefts.

Excerpt

Economic crisis is gripping Europe. Day after day, headlines report a litany of woes: stagnant growth, rising levels of unemployment, and the need for governments to slash budget deficits and embrace fiscal responsibility. The picture is even more dire in Southern Europe, ground zero of the continent’s financial crisis. There, mass joblessness and enforced fiscal austerity are conspiring to create not just spiraling levels of poverty and inequality but also homelessness and hunger. With unemployment rates in Greece and Spain now topping 25 percent, and more than half of the young unable to find a job, what started as an economic tragedy is promising to become a social catastrophe. At the core of the crisis are labor market programs and benefits, whose generosity threatens the viability of the Eurozone itself.

The current crisis sweeping Europe is fundamentally a Southern European one, where policymakers and politicians search for solutions to the pressures threatening to engulf more European Union (EU) members are putting a wide range of labor market protections on the chopping block. At its core, this retrenchment is driven by an underlying belief that countries have developed bloated welfare systems—that employment protection legislation and other social programs are far too generous. Such programs, in this view, not only inhibit countries’ capacity to respond to the crisis in the short run but also restrict long-term patterns of growth. As a result, employment protection is being jettisoned, benefits for the unemployed are being pared back and restructured, and pressures mount for the further decentralization of wage-setting practices.

Understanding the political coalitions at the foundation of these labor market regimes is fundamental to understanding how such a crisis came to be. One of the most natural explanations for the emergence and evolution of protective welfare institutions is the political power of the left. Indeed, a long intellectual lineage in comparative politics ascribes generous welfare policies to the electoral and organizational strength of left-wing parties. Advocates of this partisan-based approach argue that left and right parties have distinctive . . .

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