Asia’s next revolution

The Economist devotes this week’s cover, and its main leader, to a story about the expansion of social protection in Asia. One of the main unsung tales of the last ten years has been the massive development of social protection in developing economies like South Africa, Mexico, India, Indonesia, China and Brazil – Barrientos and Hulme call it a “quiet revolution”. The Economist article focuses mainly on health care, and Asia has come late to the party. The Economist is probably right to argue that “every country that can afford to build a welfare state will come under mounting pressure to do so.” But then, I would say that: I have argued the case in The Welfare State (Sage, 2000) and some other papers.

The Economist’s leader does, however, make a common mistake. They write: “Europe’s welfare states began as basic safety nets. But over time they turned into cushions.” They didn’t begin that way, and they haven’t finished that way either. The origins of many welfare states lie in the development of solidarity and the mutuals; the state became involved much later. See Peter Baldwin’s book, The politics of social solidarity, Cambridge University Press 1990. The extension of health care, which they focus on, is essential to the maintenance of any modern labour force.

It was the English Poor Law that began as a safety net. The accusations that the British system had become excessively generous can be dated back to the criticisms of the monasteries before the Reformation, but it became a regular part of complaints about welfare from the mid-18th century onwards; it continued in the accusations that workhouses had become ‘pauper places’; and it continues now in the assertion, contrary to all the evidence, of generations who have ‘never worked’. The system is neither generous at an individual level, nor collectively unaffordable. There is extensive evidence of the relationship of welfare to economic performance: there isn’t one. See A B Atkinson, 1995, The welfare state and economic performance, in Incomes and the welfare state, Cambridge University Press, and the entry on my website.

Poverty, democratic governance and poverty reduction strategies

I have given a presentation today at an International Symposium in Istanbul, Turkey, organised by Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University and Sosyal Politikalar Dernegi.  The argument was this:

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers have become a significant experiment in world governance.  Poverty is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, and responses to poverty need to be adapt to a wide range of circumstances.  In the belief that deliberative democracy is the route to prosperity, international organisations have directed governments around the world to undertake a process of strategic planning, based on participative development and negotiation of policy with stakeholders. However, the emphasis in the PRSPs seems to have fallen more on the methods they use than the substance of the strategies.  Democracy is not valued only for its process; it matters what it achieves.   If PRSPs are to help the poor, they need to extend their focus, moving beyond procedural issues towards substantive policies that stand to benefit the poor.

Here is a copy of the slides and a copy of the paper.

Symposium in Istanbul

Good news from Africa

This table is drawn from a recent study looking at the fall of mortality in Kenya. It points to a general trend: across Africa, more children are surviving.

Under 5 mortality (per 1000 live births)
Previous studies (1998-2007)

Most recent study (2005-2009)

160 (2001)

125 (2006)

166 (2000)

124 (2005)

111 (2003)

80 (2008)

115 (2003)

74 (2009)

110 (2007)

114 (2009)

94 (2004)

72 (2009)

229 (2001)

191 (2006)

62 (2000)

69 (2007)

274 (1998)

198 (2006)

201 (2003)

157 (2008)

152 (2005)

103 (2008)

121 (2005)

85 (2009)

147 (1999)

112 (2005)

152 (2001)

128 (2006)

168 (2002)

119 (2007)

102 (1999)

83 (2006)

Stephen Radelet, in Emerging Africa?, claims that the factors behind this improvement are

  • “more democratic and accountable governments
  • more sensible economic policies,
  • the end of the debt crisis and major changes in relationships with the international community
  • new technologies that are creating new opportunities for business and political accountability, and
  • a new generation of policymakers, activists, and business leaders.”

There are problems – such as the recent (hopefully short term) increase in mortality in Liberia. But the trend is clear, and it is very good news indeed – especially for those who are concerned about population increase, because there is a clear and strong association between infant survival and the number of children a woman must have.