Social Welfare and Harmony in East Asia and the Nordic Region
According to the discourse of elites in East and Southeast Asia, public social policies are supposed to be supportive of a small public sector, free trade and the allocation of growth in the marketplace. This approach relies on a Weberian-type explanation emphasizing values such as hard work, discipline, private enterprise, family, thrift, responsibility and respect for authority. It is furthermore based on a deliberate strategy of not emphasizing any measures of a social welfare state or publicly sanctioned entitlements, as this is supposed to decrease competitiveness in global markets. This approach has recently been challenged by pressures from labor and other societal actors, which in tandem with increased democratization are pressuring the political agenda regarding provisions of welfare and social security. Old-style paternalism and the policy of growth at any cost are being questioned. It seems that one important outcome may create greater demands for public provision of social welfare as a more articulated political expression. An important prospect might be a “soft” restructuring of the present custodian developmental state towards a more redistributive public sector, with characteristics of a social welfare state.
The main purpose of this chapter is to provide a critical assessment of social policies and corporatism in East Asia (Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan) (excluding labor), and compare with the Scandinavian experience with corporatism (including labor). Are there lessons to be learned from successful models of social provisioning, with the ultimate objective of ensuring decent and secure lives for all citizens—particularly the poor, the excluded sectors in society and the unemployed? The East Asia model might offer lessons for the West and vice versa. Mutual learning must be the key for future understanding and co-operation.
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