1. Introduction

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The East Asian Welfare Regime:

A Political-Cultural Perspective

Christian Aspalter

(The University of Hong Kong)

1. Introduction

In recent years the study of East Asian welfare state systems succeeded in making the transition from a pioneering to a maturing field of study. Not only have local researchers increased the level of research activity, with regard to width and depth of study topics, but also international studies achieved great progress, most of all the comparative country studies.

This brief study has two objectives. One to bring a bit closer the wonderful world of welfare state theories to our current mind, underlining its structural composition, similarities and differences of theories, to give an overall view of the situation. It is important for research studies and researchers alike to angle themselves in the different dimensions of theoretical thought, to connect to further similar studies, as well as to discover new, not yet familiar studies, and to bring them all again closer to one’s own findings.
The many theoretical streams that have been developed show that today we are in a lucky position of not having merely a mainstream of thought with some minor approaches to welfare being neglected on its side. But rather, we may enjoy the plurality of theories, which as a whole gained momentum in the mid-1990s, with an exceptional growth in e.g. gender-based theories. Comparative social welfare theories, too, have had the chance to grow and prosper. Hence, it may be time, in the first part of this study, to shortly recapture the overall state of affairs, in major parts of the theoretical field, paying special attention to developments with regard to comparative theories.

The second part of this study sets out to connect the overall theoretical picture with new developments of the welfare state in East Asian countries – the second objective of this study. After briefly describing the overall development of welfare state systems in East Asia taking the cases of Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong, the paper will draw several conclusions noting that both politics and macro-cultural determinants are vital in determining the historical path of welfare state systems in the long run. Rather than concentrating exclusively on the direct causal relationship between political and institutional determinants and welfare state development, the author identifies in this study cultural determinants as the key, macro-level factor determining these very socio-political and institutional determinants.

2. The World of Welfare State Theories
In comparative social policy, welfare state systems in East Asia take on a particular interesting role, as they may serve as a testing ground for many theories, be they (a) descriptive, or representational, (b) explanatory, or analytical, or (c) normative theories (Table 1). Both descriptive and explanatory theories are used for classifications of welfare state systems, whereas the latter clearly exhibit, by their very nature, more explanatory capacity, hence being more salient to the study of welfare state comparison.
Each explanatory theory may be grouped into either (i) actor-based (conflict) theories, or (ii) structural (functional) theories (Table 2). Actor-based theories rest on the firm prediction that different actors will achieve different results in social welfare policy, and hence, that it is the actors, their very nature, their power, their programs, and connections that matter. These actors usually include the State, corporatist institutions, political parties, ruling elites, governing administrators, labor unions, social movements, interest groups and organizations, social advocates and activists, but also international organizations, such as the IMF and the World Bank.
As to structural theories, they in general predict a convergence of social welfare policies based on common structural determinants such as e.g. the degree of economic development, urbanization, modernization, the advance of capitalism, and even evolutionary theories, such as that of T.H. Marshall (1950, 1964) or that of Collier and Messick (1975).

Table 1: Brief Overview of Social Policy Theories:

With special emphasis on comparative theories

Descriptive Theories

Explanatory Theories

Normative Theories

· historical analyses

· describing particular welfare states systems, or families of welfare state systems

· identifying welfare state clusters

· comparing welfare state systems and social policies

· setting up classifications of welfare state systems and social policies

· explaining determinants of the welfare state in general and social policies in particular

· explaining past and current developments

· explaining comparative differences and similarities, deviations in social welfare policy

· projecting past trends and developments into the future

· evaluating and criticizing welfare state systems and social policies

· identifying problems, shortcomings, and needs

· identifying particular failures and successes in social policy

· proposing new social policies, or new directions/ key solutions in social welfare policy

Titmuss (1958, 1974)

Kersbergen & Becker (1988)

Esping-Andersen (1987a, 1990, 1998)

Castles & Mitchell (1991)

Leibfried (1992)

Deacon (1992)

C. Jones (1985, 1990)

Ostner & Lewis (1995)

Palier & Bonoli (1995)

Ferrera (1996, 1998)

Taylor-Gooby (1996, 1998)

Kaufmann (1997)

Sainsbury (1999)

O’Connor et al. (1999)

Holliday (2000)

Gough (2000)

K.L. Tang (2000)

Ferrera & Rhodes (2000)

Olsson Hort (2000)

Ramesh (2000, 2003)

Huber & Stephens (1999, 2001)

Aspalter (2004)

Abrahamson (2003)

Ferrera & Hemerijk (2003)

Clasen & Oorschot (2003)

Mesa-Lago (2003)

Haggard & Kaufmann (2004)

Holliday & Wilding (2004)

Gough et al. (2004)

Lewis & Surender (2004)

Wilensky & Lebeaux (1965, [1958])

Kerr et al. (1960)

M. Olson (1965, 1982)

Collier & Messick (1975)

Hewitt (1977)

Castles (1982, 1985)

Korpi (1983)

Shalev (1983a,b)

Esping-Andersen (1985, 1987b)

Pascall (1986)

Skocpol (1987, 1992)

Weir, Orloff, Skocpol (1988)

Baldwin (1990)

Budge & Keman (1990)

Immergut (1992, 1998)

C. Jones (1993)

George & Wilding (1994)

Kersbergen (1994, 1995)

P. Pierson (1995)

Y. Ku (1997)

Gauthier (1996)

Midgley & Hughes (1997)

Woldendorp et al. (1998)

Mishra (1981, 1984, 1999)

H. Kwon (1998, 1999)

Lavallette & Mooney (1999)

O’Brian (2000)

Swank (2001, 2002)

Aspalter (2001a,b, 2002a,b)

Saint-Martin (2002)

Rieger & Leibfried (2003)

Ahn & Olsson Hort (2003)

Kim & Ahn (2003)

Allan & Scruggs (2004)

Gilbert & Gilbert (1989)

Sherraden & Gilbert (1991)

Orloff (1993)

Sainsbury (1994)

Van Parijs (1994, 1998)

George & Miller (1994)

Midgley (1995, 2001, 2003)

Gilbert (1995)

Taylor-Gooby & George (1996)

O’Connor (1996)

Beverly & Sherraden (1997)

Midgley & Sherraden (1997)

Korpi & Palme (1998)

Giddens (1998, 2001)

Fitzpatrick (1999)

Hantrais (2000)

Shapiro & Wolff (2001)

Morrow-Howell et al. (2001)

Skocpol & Leone (2001)

Esping-Andersen (2002)

Walker (2002)

Lister (2002, 2003, 2004a,b)

Beck et al. (2003)

Body-Gendrot & Gittell (2003)

Table 2: A Focus on Explanatory Theories:
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