Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Seminar

"Welfare and Inequality in Marketizing Social Orders”

16 November 2018
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Abstract: The expansion of markets and market relations over past several decades ranks among the most transformative aspects of our times. Leading accounts of marketization credit it with having fostered trade, investment, and competition; technological and organizational advances and innovation; and having permitting sustained economic growth and capital accumulation on a previously unimagined scale.

Marketization and the expansion of the world economy with which it is credited is also seen to have permitted unprecedented improvements in welfare, understood broadly as improving living standards and the satisfaction of human needs. Indeed, the contributions of world economic expansion and marektization feature prominently in accounts that celebrate progress in poverty reduction and, in particular, in accounts by famous scholars seeking to demonstrate that the human condition has never been better.

And yet marketization is hardly a panacea. In addition to capital accumulation, growth, and certain improvements in living standards, marketization is simultaneously seen to have promoted ecological destruction, material waste, the perpetuation of relations of oppression and exploitation, the weakening of democratic political institutions, the maintenance of conditions of economic insecurity and poverty, and intensifying inequalities. 

While marketization has transformed social life everywhere, the manner in which it has registered across countries and the responses it has elicited within countries has varied enormously. This article suggests ways of understanding the combined and uneven manner in which marketization has played out across countries and its effects on welfare and inequality across countries and its significance for global social policy.

The article is organized around two sets of claims and an illustration. The first claim is that, contrary to leading accounts of marketization, there is no reason to be particularly triumphalist about the contributions of marketization to welfare or to downplay the significance of inequality. While living conditions have improved and while inequalities are not always pernicious, the manner in which marketization has unfolded needs to be understood in more sober terms. Given the capital accumulation that has occurred, improvements in the human condition are a far cry that what they might be under variously plausible alternative to the particular manner in which marketization has unfolded across countries. Second, I propose that understanding the manner in which marketization has unfolded across countries is best pursed through an approach that construes countries as nationally-scaled, globally embedded social orders that are defined by specific combinations of social relational and institutional attributes. I contend that using such an approach helps to expose the mechanisms that shape welfare and inequality outcomes. I conclude the article by demonstrating the merits of such an approach, drawn from a recently pubilshed book on experiences in East Asia.

Over the last several decades, scholars of global and comparative political economy have been effective in highlighting attributes of the world economy, global social policy, national development strategies and growth trajectories, and features of welfare regimes. This article suggests that we stand to benefit from an approach trained on the manner in which marketization and global social policies register across countries and its effects on welfare and inequality across countries and how such an analysis might be undertaken.

Registration: Please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper.

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