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End of the Era of Productivist Welfare Capitalism? Diverging Welfare Regimes in East Asia*

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Abstract The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of recent transformations in East Asian welfare regimes, applying a ‘real-typical’ perspective, based on the ‘productivist welfare capitalism’ thesis of Ian Holliday (2000). Unlike Western welfare-state regimes in which the politics of austerity has dominated, the politics of welfare expansion has been noticeable in East Asian welfare regimes. This paper will analyse whether these changes have fundamentally dismantled the productivist feature where social policy is subordinate to economic objectives. While the trajectories are different depending on different political institutional contexts, this study shows that there are two strong signs that these states are moving out of their productivist nature and also that they are in the process of establishing their own welfare states. Japan seems to still be a productivist welfare-state regime struggling to accommodate rapid socio-economic changes, whereas Korea is a welfare state regime with strong liberal characteristics via modern welfare politics. Since the needs for social policy expansion in China correspond to economic and political needs, the productivist feature has been significantly weakened. However, this study argues that these transitory welfare regimes are in critical stages of formulating their new welfare regimes and that welfare politics based on contingent events could affect the future trajectories of these regimes.

Affiliations: 1: Korea University


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