Rosanvallon – The crisis of the welfare state (summary)

Pierre Rosanvallon published The Crisis of the Welfare State in 1981.

In this work, the historian and sociologist asks himself:“The welfare state is sick of the crisis. How long can things continue to go on like this?

We present here a short summary of the main ideas put forward by Rosanvallon, whose thinking continues to influence political science.

For Pierre Rosanvallon, the word Welfare state has taken on a new meaning than the one given by Emile Ollivier and has become less pejorative.

He begins by establishing that the welfare state, in addition to producing security and reducing uncertainty, has assigned itself three roles:

  1. the redistribution of income
  2. and the regulation of social relations
  3. the provision of collective services

Yet, questions Rosanvallon,“Does not the increase in taxes and social charges risk jeopardizing the competitiveness of companies and undermining the dynamism of the economy?

Three factors explain the crisis of the welfare state

This is not just an economic crisis. There is no “real crisis in the financing of the welfare state”. Rather, there is a social and cultural crisis: we need “a new social contract between individuals, groups and classes. The main blockage of the welfare state is indeed cultural and sociological.

1. Loss of legitimacy: if the State has to satisfy all the social needs of everyone, then it never ends there will always be more to satisfy.

Moreover, the “equality” that it wants to put in place is weakened by a multitude of reasons: the priority of security over equality, the fact that it is not a social upheaval but a progressive procedure, the fact that it is no longer a minority but the majority of taxpayers who contribute for the others, the increasingly important cleavages between social categories.

2. The lack of visibility and transparency of solidarity actions: solidarity “can only be exercised if the social morality it expresses is based on a minimum of visibility of social relations”.

3. The failure of Keynes: since the 1970s, Keynesian policies have not succeeded in overcoming the crisis. The increase in compulsory levies ended up slowing down economic development.

→ Summary Paul Krugman – Get us out of this crisis now!

Return of liberalism and criticism of this liberalism

In the 1,980s, liberalism is back. For these new liberals, the market is certainly imperfect, but it remains better than the state.

Originally, liberalism legitimized only one kind of equality: equal rights. Economic inequalities can be fair, and everyone should be free to work more or less according to their wants and needs.

But for Rosanvallon, this primary liberalism is confused: it does not clearly define the contours of the State and does not know how to answer the question: what should the State be in charge of?

Moreover, there is a “negation of the social” in the liberal renewal that is then underway. This one is “radically a-sociological”, since nobody communicates with anybody, the individual being alone and master.

Finally, it is a question of “going beyond the framework of the welfare state”.

Rejecting the two classical scenarios

… The two paths presented are typical of the left-right political division: on the one hand, the social-statist scenario, on the other the liberal scenario.

For Rosanvallon, both are to be rejected.

The social-statist scenario because it“would run into serious financial difficulties in the current situation, but above all it would be confronted with a diffuse sociological resistance that would be difficult to overcome.”

The liberal scenario because it would be“a step backwards, a reduction in distribution. It is a scenario of social regression” and would risk provoking strong social movements.

→ Summary of the Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith

… to arrive at the third way of a solidary society

The third way is found in the“solidary society”. It is necessary to“transfer public service tasks to non-public bodies (associations, foundations, various groupings): this is the path of empowerment.”

For these purposes, the rights must be recognized of“neighborhood groups, mutual aid networks, structures of taking charge of a collective service, etc.”, they must be considered as real subjects of right.

The reduction of working hours helps to give enough free time for mutual aid to blossom in all these networks.

“De-bureaucratizing and rationalizing the management of major facilities and collective functions” is a priority.

Rosanvallon wants to decentralize these services as much as possible.

More generally, there is a trinary dynamic to be put in place urgently: “socialization, decentralization and empowerment”.

This dynamic also takes place in a “triple movement of reducing the demand for the State, of reincorporating solidarity into society and of producing greater social visibility”.

Finally, Rosanvallon argues for a “post-social democracy” based on the “social compromise” to get out of the crisis of the welfare state.

To deepen the analyses and solutions proposed in this book by Pierre Rosanvallon, you can order it online.