Little Mephisto


The politics of welfare in the 21st century

In his 1990 book, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (TWWC), sociologist Gosta Esping-Andersen identified three categories of European welfare regimes: liberal, conservative, and social democratic. In Esping-Andersen’s account, these welfare regimes developed according to the sorts of coalitions formed by working people: social democratic regimes are based on associations between agricultural workers and industrial socialist organizations; conservative regimes emerged through an alliance between labor organizations and religious groups; liberal regimes are ones in which strong workers movements never managed to significantly structure bargaining institutions.

The dynamic and historical account of welfare state development which TWWC proposes continues to influence our understanding of how distributional conflicts can shape political institutions. However, Esping-Andersen’s categories were based on full employment and high growth—a paradigm that no longer holds. In a lesser known but more recent book, the author attempts to adjust his model to postindustrial labor markets.

From the introduction:

“This book is an attempt to come to grips with the ‘new political economy’ that is emerging. One premise of my analyses is that ‘postindustrial’ transformation is institutionally path-dependent. This means that existing institutional arrangements heavily determine national trajectories. More concretely, the divergent kinds of welfare regimes that nations built over the post-war decades have a lasting and overpowering effect on which kind of adaptation strategies can and will be pursued. Hence, we see various kinds of postindustrial societies unfolding before our eyes.

Contemporary debate has been far too focused on the state. The real crisis lies in the interaction between the composite parts that, in unison, form contemporary welfare ‘regimes’: labour markets, the family, and, as a third partner, the welfare state. What most commentators see as a welfare state crisis, may in reality be a crisis of the broader institutional framework that has come to regulate our political economies. Our common tendency to regard postindustrial society as a largely convergent global process impairs our analytical faculties and our ability to understand the radical shifts in government and power which have taken place in recent decades.”

Link to the publisher’s page.

  • Esping-Anderson’s analysis rests heavily on the Polanyian notions of decommodification and double movement. In a recent book chapter, sociologist Michael Burawoy elaborates on the persisting relevance of these concepts for understanding social movements in market societies. Link.
  • Philip Manow uses the historical framework developed in TWWC to explain the success of communist parties in Southern Europe: “Conflicts between the nation-state and the Catholic church in the mono-denominational countries of Europe’s south rendered a coalition between pious farmers and the anticlerical worker’s movement unthinkable, leading to the further radicalization of the left.” Link.
  • “How can the social categories which are commonly called ‘middle’ class be situated within a conceptual framework built around a polarized concept of class? What does it mean to be in the ‘middle’ of a ‘relation’?” In his 2000 textbook, Class Counts, the late Erik Olin Wright develops a theoretically rich account of class relations and their relevance for understanding historical change. Link.

New Researchers

US deportations and human capital development in Central America

In an AEA paper published in May of this year, Associate Professor of Economics at Princeton MARIA MICAELA SVIATSCHI examines the effects of US deportations to Central America. Looking at the uptick in deportations of people with criminal convictions following the draconian 1996 immigration laws, Sviatschi examined the effects of context on human capital development.

From the abstract:

“I ask whether peer effects generate changes in education investments in the areas where deported criminals are located in Central America using administrative data in El Salvador. I exploit the increase in criminal deportations from the United States in 1996 to analyze how individuals who grew up in municipalities affected by gangs in 1996 have fewer years of schooling when they are young adults. I find that individuals who were exposed during childhood to gang leaders have less schooling than those who were older than 16 in 1996 when the law was passed.”

Link to the paper, link to Sviatschi’s website.

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:


  • At the Phenomenal World, Francis Tseng and Jack Gross interview Seda Gürses and Bekah Overdorf, two computer scientists whose work grapples with the externalities of optimization systems. “Where privacy gets you to focus on personal data and the profiling of individuals, optimization gets you thinking about how groups of people and entire geographies are optimized for profit.” Link.
  • Ellora Derenoncourt and Claire Montialoux examine the effect of minimum wages laws on racial inequality. “Using a cross-industry difference-in-differences design, we show that wages rose sharply for workers in the newly covered industries. The impact was nearly twice as large for black workers as for white.” Link.
  • A 2004 paper by philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, who was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant this week, examines the and rejects the (sparse) justifications for work requirements in welfare regimes. Link. See also another excellent paper by Anderson: “Use of Value Judgements in Science.” Link.
  • “Banks are closing their branches across the US. Branch numbers declined in every single year since 2009, amounting to a total net loss of 11,244 by 2018, or 11.4%. If Europe is any guidance, more than 8 out of 10 branches will be closed in the near future.” By Jan Keil. Link.
  • Arvind Subramanian and Dani Rodrik examine the peristence of financial globalization. Link.
  • “The figure of the judge or adjudicator in international tribunals has been garnering growing attention. Yet we know relatively little about how adjudicators actually produce their rulings. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for all the attention panelists and Appellate Body (AB) members at the World Trade Organization (WTO) receive, the Secretariat plays an overlooked and increasingly important role. We examine this role and… the findings are unambiguous: the WTO Secretariat exerts significantly more influence over the writing of WTO panel reports than panelists themselves.” Link.
  • An IPA policy brief highlights the nine-year results of a start-up cash transfer grant in Uganda. Link.
  • Sunit Bagree on financial outflows from Southern Africa. Link.
  • A special issue of German History Journal on German labor history across time and context. Link.
  • Michael Lipsitz and Evan Starr examine the effect of the 2008 Oregon ban on non-compete agreements for low-wage workers, and find the wage-suppression and job immobility effects of NCAs to be significant. Link. Another paper co-authored by Lipsitz looks more closely at NCAs’ effect on worker mobility. Link.
  • Kevin Rinz examines life cycle differences in the effects of exposure to the Great Recession. Link.
  • “The fertilizer trade was instrumental in mobilizing new sources of nutrients and motivating innovative labor regimes. Chilean nitrate firms used a similarly coercive labor regime known as the enganche system. In the 1880s, recruiters for the Nitrate Producers Association began enlisting migrant workers in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. Enganchadores, literally ‘ones who press or trick others into performing a service,’ hosted raucous, liquor-soaked carnivals where they enticed migrant laborers with tales of the boomtown fortunes to be made in the Norte Grande, the northernmost region of Chile. Once these men signed on, they found themselves at the mercy of company agents who routinely ignored contractual obligations. Debt for his passage to the mines became the interminable bond that kept each worker toiling endlessly for his contractor. As a result, the First Green Revolution—from the 1840s to the 1930s—not only represented an unprecedented human intervention in the global nitrogen cycle, it also relied upon a new configuration of transnational labor relations.” Link. ht Francis

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

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