Co-occurrence of equality and prosperity? On the instrumental role of social policy in evolving welfare state

FANG Lijie1

(1.Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

【Abstract】By reviewing changes to welfare state, this paper attempts to explain how social policy as a tool balances economic development and social equality. It is realized that during the period of capitalist industrialization, “welfare state model” was successful because “de-commodification” of labor force, which was the core of the “welfare state model,” helped realize “common interests” of economic growth and social equality. However, since the 1980s and in the context of new situation, the strategy of “de-commodification” of labor force by welfare state has failed to deal with new problems, which has not only hindered economic development, but also stalled social equality. The “common interests” of economy and society in the new context require social policy to shift to the “re-commodification” of labor. This kind of shift trend is irresistible, but it indicates threats from liberalism and globalization.

【Keywords】 decommodification; recommodification; social investment strategy;


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(Translated by QIN xiaoxia)


    [1]. ① “Decommodification” of labor means that enjoying welfare is a kind of right, with which people do not have to rely on market to maintain living standards (Espin-Anderson, 1990: 22). [^Back]

    [2]. ② Source: The World Bank database (https: // [^Back]

    [3]. ③ “Availability” of welfare rights indicates the degree to which immigrants could enjoy the same welfare as citizens in an immigration country. “Portability” reflects the degree to which immigrants could bring welfare of an emigration country to an immigration country (Holzmann & Koettl, 2011). [^Back]

    [4]. ④ Unemployment in postindustrial society is different from that in industrial society to a certain extent. Unemployment in industrial society is periodic since it is generally results from periodic economic fluctuation, and the unemployed are likely to be reemployed with economic recovery. In contrast, unemployment in postindustrial society is structural unemployment and is less likely for the unemployed to be reemployed since it is closely related to elimination of outdated technologies and technologies in postindustrial society advancing rapidly. Without reemployment training, the unemployed will may remain in unemployment for a long time or take a job with less salary than before. [^Back]

    [5]. ⑤Different scholars address active labor market policies in different ways: offensive one and defensive one (Tofing, 1999), “positive” and “negative” (Taylor-Gooby, 2004), and “universal activation” and “liberal activation.” [^Back]

    [6]. ①Both “ensuring and improving people’s well-being in pursuit of development,” and “employment being the most important part of people’s well-being” have appeared in the report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-1100/C

Vol 34, No. 05, Pages 94-115+244

September 2019


Article Outline


  • Introduction
  • 1 Analysis framework: social policy as a tool for countermovement
  • 2 Origin and development of welfare state model: decommodification of labor
  • 3 Welfare state crisis: ineffective decommodification of labor
  • 4 Transformation of welfare state: walking towards decommodification of labor
  • 5 Conclusion and discussion
  • Footnote