Group Formation


Comparative development and social policy

Among the diverse local and national policy responses undertaken to combat the pandemic in recent months, Kerala’s has been notable. Within the broader context of Indian economic development, Kerala’s government has a tradition of successful redistributive development policies, sometimes referred to as the Kerala model.

In a 2005 article, MANALI DESAI traces Kerala’s unique post-independence record of welfare provision to its experience under indirect British rule. By comparing the trajectory of its policy successes to those of West Bengal, a state with a similar electoral history, Desai strikes a distinctive balance between path dependency and contingency, arguing that “the form and content of welfare policies are shaped by the exigencies of state formation, but political struggles are the decisive determining factors of the former.”

From the article:

“In the somewhat meager annals of comparable state action in third world societies, Kerala appears as a clear exception. Despite fierce party competition, a church-landlord coalition, and the imposition of presidents’ rule on two different occasions (in 1959 and 1965), the state has seen an array of policies aimed at redistributing land, and providing education, pension plans, minimum wage legislation, and housing for the poor. There have been few serious attempts at understanding these state actions as a form of historical agency. In particular, an issue that is consistently overlooked is the fact that Kerala’s post-independence policy regime was preceded by significant welfare expansion in the nineteenth century in its two southern princely states of Travancore and Cochin. In part under pressure from the British administration, both monarchies undertook significant land reforms and expanded education and health care. While reforms by princely states were not that unusual in the colonial era, the scale and scope of Kerala’s surpassed its peers.

The extreme nature of the caste hierarchy in Kerala, perhaps the most oppressive across India, meant that Christian missionaries not only found a home in Kerala but fed and even stimulated caste insurgency. In particular, one crucial effect of British rule and Protestant missionary activity was the increased porosity of the state to social (lower caste) demands. Both dimensions of colonial power (colonial power as well as social resistance to this power) destroyed status privileges, primarily those based on caste, to a larger degree than found elsewhere in British India. Early welfare policies in Kerala were implemented in a dependent colonial context and aimed at warding off annexation by the British, but their unintended consequences were to stimulate what they were precisely designed to avoid—radical caste and class movements.”

Link to the piece.

  • An edited volume from 2000 looks at the history of Kerala’s social policies. Link. (A 1991 exchange in the NYRB between Barbara H. Chasin and Richard W. Franke, and Amartya Sen discusses the nature of Kerala’s “exceptionalism.” Link.)
  • “This article addresses the welfare state in a global historical context. In the new societies of industrial capitalism, two powerful and opposite interests converged in generating public social policies. It uses the five-part model to ask what lessons, if any, it has for the likely emergence of welfare states in the developing world. It also recognizes the immense variety within the ‘global South’ and distinguishes the distinctive patterns of risk management within it.” A 2010 paper by Ian Gough and Göran Therborn. Link. (Ungated version here.)
  • A 2007 paper by Nita Rudra looks at the applicability of Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s welfare state typology in the developing context. Link. And Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufman’s 2009 book provides a comparative account of welfare state development across Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. Link.


Democratic Transitions and Industrial Policy

JUAN VELASCO is a recent graduate of the PhD in International Development at King’s College. His dissertation uses electoral and legislative data, semi-structured elite interviews and process tracing to understand how interest coalitions in government shape the outcomes of industrial policy.

From the abstract:

“Why have the centre-left coalitions of two countries like Chile and Uruguay had different impacts on wage bargaining? I argue there are three elements that define wage policy outcomes. First, the nature of democratic transitions helps to shape the formation of redistributive or growth-oriented reform coalitions. Secondly, I look at whether government coalitions are embedded with trade unions agendas. Thirdly, I argue that legislative participation of constituency matters for ensuring the implementation of active wage policy. In the case of Chile, democratic transition shaped the willingness of Concertación to reform the collective bargaining legacy of the military regime. Consequently, minimum wages were used as active policies, benefiting low income workers but with no impact on income distribution. On the contrary, in Uruguay, where institutional restrictions were absent, wage policy fluctuated according to Governments’ preferences. With Frente Amplio in power, a coalition with strong linkage to trade union agendas, both minimum wages and collective bargaining were used actively in a context of a legislative majority with a high presence of trade union-linked legislators.”

Link to the paper.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • New on the Phenomenal World: JFI researcher Francis Tseng’s report on renewable energy and the future of mining. Within: the present state of minerals production, near-future ploys for mining in space, and the persistent externalities of extraction. Link to the report, link to the blog post.
  • In a new briefing, Zachary Parolin and Christopher Wimer forecast the impact of Covid-19 on US poverty rates: “If unemployment rates rise to 30%, the annual poverty rate in the US will increase from 12.4% to 18.9%, the highest recorded rate of poverty since at least 1967.” Link to the report and link to coverage in the Times.
  • “Rising income inequality in the US has generated a substantial increase in saving by the top of the income distribution. This has not been associated with an increase in investment. Instead, it has been linked to the substantial dissaving and large accumulation of debt by the non-rich. Analysis using variation across states shows that the rise in top income shares can explain almost all of the accumulation of household debt held as a financial asset by the household sector.” New research linking weak demand and rising debt, by Atif R. Mian, Ludwig Straub, and Amir Sufi. Link.
  • “The success of the wartime supply system also showed how powerful international cooperation can be during a global crisis.” In the NYT, Jamie Martin argues the historical case for international cooperation to manage the medical supply chain. Link.
  • In a new Fed paper by Tomaz Cajner et al examine recent labor market developments using payroll data: “Cumulative losses in paid employment through April 4 are currently estimated at 18 million; just during the two weeks between March 14 and March 28 the U.S. economy lost about 13 million paid jobs.” Link.
  • Marcelo Vieta’s recent book on the tradition of worker-managed factories in Argentina. Link. And a paper by Brendan Von Briesen studies “the guilds of the seven maritime cargo handling trades” in early 19th century Barcelona. Link.
  • Alex Trew with new research on infrastructure investment and the Industrial Revolution. Link.
  • “In recent decades, middle-paid jobs have declined, replaced by a mix of high and low-paid jobs. This is labor market polarization. At the same time, initially skilled and typically larger cities have become even more skilled relative to initially less skilled and typically smaller cities. This is the great divergence. Using data on occupational growth for 117 French cities, we develop a theory that links these two phenomena.” A new working paper by Donald R. Davis, Eric Mengus, Tomasz K. Michalski. Link.
  • “The Trypillia megasites of the Ukrainian forest steppe formed the largest fourth-millennium BC sites in Eurasia and possibly the world. Discovered in the 1960s, the social structure of the megasites has yet to be understood. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary investigation of the Nebelivka megasite we analyze three research questions: (1) what was the essence of megasite lifeways? (2) can we call the megasites early cities? and (3) what were their origins? We model three different scenarios for life in the cities to show that megasites were so different from other coeval settlements that they could justifiably be termed ‘cities’. Looking at the development of these sites indicates that there were at least two pathways to early urbanism in Eurasia.” Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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