Kenneth Arrow’s “impossibility” theorem is rightly considered to be a landmark result in economic theory. It is a far-reaching result with implications not just for economics but for political science, philosophy, and many other fields. It has inspired an enormous literature, “social choice theory,” which lies on the interface of economics, politics, and philosophy. Arrow first proved the impossibility theorem in his doctoral dissertation—Social Choice and Individual Values—published in 1951. It is a remarkable result, and had Arrow not proved it, it is unlikely that the theorem would be known today. A social choice is simply a choice made by, or on behalf of, a group of people. Arrow’s theorem is concerned more specifically with the following problem. Suppose that we have a given set of options to choose from and that each member of a group of individuals has his or her own preference over these options. By what method should we construct a single ranking of the options for the group as a whole? Any such method may be represented mathematically by a “social welfare function.” This is a function that receives as its input the preference ordering of each individual and then generates as its output a social preference ordering. Arrow defined some properties that would seem to be essential to any reasonable social welfare function. These properties are called “unrestricted domain,” “weak Pareto,” “independence of irrelevant alternatives,” and “non-dictatorship.” Each of these properties, when taken alone, does appear to be very necessary indeed. Yet, Arrow proved that these properties are in fact mutually incompatible. This troubling fact has been central to the study of social choice ever since.
Conal Duddy and Ashley Piggins
The idea that states should provide a means-tested guaranteed minimum income for citizens who are unable to meet their basic needs is widely shared and has been a central component in the evolution of social citizenship rights in existing welfare states. However, an increasing number of activists and scholars defend the more radical option of establishing a universal basic income, that is, an unconditional income paid to all members of society on an individual basis without any means test or work requirement. Indeed, some political philosophers have argued that basic income is one of the most important reforms in the development of a just and democratic society, comparable to other milestones in the history of citizenship rights, such as universal suffrage or even the abolishment of slavery. Basic income or similar ideas, such as a basic capital or a negative income tax, have been advanced in many versions since the 18th century in different parts of the world and under a great variety of names. However, while these were previously often isolated and disconnected initiatives, basic income has more recently become the object of an increasingly cumulative research effort to shed light on the many aspects of this idea. It has also inspired policy developments and given rise to experiments and pilot projects in several countries.
Sufficientarianism is a principle of distributive justice according to which it is important that everyone has enough of some relevant form of advantage. Many, but not all, sufficientarian theories accept both the positive thesis, which holds that there is a level of advantage such that it is especially important that people reach it, and the negative thesis, which holds that there is a level of advantage such that above it, distributive justice concerns do not arise. Sufficientarians disagree on a number of questions: whether it is welfare, resources, or capabilities (or something else) that constitutes the relevant form of advantage; whether the incidence of sufficiency should be maximized or the extent of insufficiency should be minimized; whether the threshold should be high or low; whether there should be more than one threshold; and whether sufficiency should have a wide scope, temporally and spatially. Most sufficientarians agree, however, that absolute levels of advantage are morally important, that equality is not intrinsically valuable, and that advantage need not be maximized.
Iwao Hirose and Shlomi Segall
Equality is an undisputed political and moral value. But until quite recently, political philosophers have not fully explored its complexity. The literature on equality and egalitarianism is vast, complex, and multilayered—with over thirty-five years of philosophical discussion. Specifically, there are three major questions to ask about equality. First, what is equality? This question can be unpacked into two sub-questions. Distinguishing first between formal and distributive accounts of equality, we may ask what the currency of egalitarianism can be. The article goes through currencies such as welfare, resources, and capabilities, showing their respective strengths and weaknesses. A second important sub-question here is: what are the relevant scope and temporal dimensions of equality? Among whom is equality valuable, and precisely in what time frame is it valuable? This hints at the second major question, namely concerning the value of equality. Is equality indeed valuable, or are we confusing it with some other value, be it giving priority to the worse-off, or lifting individuals above a certain threshold of deprivation? The article goes through some famous criticisms of equality’s purported lack of value (e.g. the leveling down objection), explores some potential answers, and then examines the relative strength of equality’s two main rivals, namely priority and sufficiency. The third major question concerns what the proper account is of egalitarian justice. In particular, setting aside the question of currency, should our conception of distributive justice be informed by responsibility-sensitive accounts, or rather be focused on a responsibility-insensitive accounts that moreover place an emphasis on equality of relations rather than individuals’ holdings? We explore this in the two final sections, one devoted to understanding luck egalitarianism, and the other to its rival, relational egalitarianism.
Evelyne Huber and Zoila Ponce de León
Latin American welfare states have undergone major changes over the past half century. As of 1980, there were only a handful of countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay) with social policy regimes that covered more than half of their population with some kind of safety net to insure adequate care during their old age and that provided adequate healthcare services. With few exceptions, access to social protection and to healthcare in these countries and others was based on formal employment and contributions from employees and employers. There were very few programs, and those few were poorly funded, for those without formal sector jobs and their dependents. The debt crisis and the ensuing neoliberal reforms then damaged the welfare state in all countries, including these leading nations. Deindustrialization, shrinking of the public sector, and cuts in public expenditures reduced both coverage and quality of transfers and services. Poverty and inequality rose, and the welfare state did little to ameliorate these trends. With the turn of the century, the economic and political situation changed significantly. The commodity boom eased fiscal pressures and made resources available for an increase in public social expenditure. Democracy was more consolidated in the region and civil society had recovered from repression. Left-wing parties began to win elections and take advantage of the fiscal room which allowed for the building of redistributive social programs. The most significant innovation has been expansion of coverage to people in the informal sector and to people with insufficient histories of contributions to social insurance schemes. The overwhelming majority of Latin Americans now have the right to some kind of cash assistance at some point in their lives and to healthcare provided by their governments. In many cases, there have also been real improvements in the generosity of cash assistance, particularly in the case of non-contributory pensions, and in the quality of healthcare services. However, the least progress has been made toward equity. With very few exceptions, new non-contributory programs were added to the traditional contributory ones; severe inequalities continue to exist in the quality of services provided through the new and the traditional programs.
Justin Conrad and Mark Souva
Why do some governments spend more on their military than others? Leaders make spending decisions based in part on their desire to stay in office, and they may lose office through internal or external processes. Research traditionally focused on external threats as the main determinant of military spending, but internal dynamics are the primary cause of leadership turnover. Coups are the most common reason for autocrats losing power and elections are the most common way democratic leaders, or their parties, lose power. The two processes are often linked. For example, external threat, even absent an attack, can lead to a change in domestic political power. As such, domestic interests, channeled through domestic institutions, are central to understanding military spending. Political science research often emphasizes domestic public opinion and the narrow interests of specific groups as explanations for military spending patterns. Such research finds that changes in public opinion lead to changes in defense spending and that more left-oriented interests favor lower defense spending. Research comparing spending across countries instead focuses on institutions and external threats. Much of this research focuses on the defense burden, which is the ratio of defense spending to gross domestic product. Among the few consistent findings is the fact that democracies maintain a lower defense burden than non-democracies. Higher levels of external threat are also associated with higher defense burdens and smaller countries tend to free-ride in alliances. Additional research examines variations in military spending among autocracies. As with democracies, specific institutions appear to be more important than regime type. Institutions such as legislatures that incentivize leaders to provide public goods are associated with less military spending.
The emerging literature on the politics of social protection in Africa provides insights into the ways in which the unevenly changing character of representative democracy shapes processes of public policymaking in practice. Reforms are widely on the agenda, in part as a result of their advocacy by diverse international organizations and aid donors. But there are many obstacles between the policy agenda and policymaking (and implementation). In many countries, political elites hold conservative views on cash transfer programs. The institutionalization of regular and nominally contested elections has rarely resulted in significant pressures from below for pro-poor programmatic social policy reforms. In some countries, “democratic” politics continues to revolve around competition for patronage rather than programmatic reform. In others, voters themselves seem to prioritize other programs (especially agricultural subsidies) ahead of social protection. Nonetheless, a growing number of competitively elected governments have introduced reforms, as have some semi-democratic or authoritarian regimes. For both more and less democratic governments, regime legitimation through apparently more inclusive development seems to be a more powerful factor than voter pressure.
Which risks are social and which are private? How much of their GDP do states spend on social welfare? Who exactly is entitled to which benefits? Is it still possible to finance an encompassing welfare state in times of deindustrialization, technological and demographic change, and globalization? And why do the answers to these questions differ so much across countries? These and similar questions—all central to social cohesion in capitalist democracies—ensure that the analysis of welfare politics is one of the theoretically as well as methodologically most dynamic and richest research areas within comparative political economy and political science more generally. Besides outlining the comparative development and the difficulty of measuring social policy, the focus of this contribution lies in a critical review of the most important past and current theoretical debates in the field of welfare state research, as a subfield of comparative political economy. These debates include party- and power-resource-centered approaches and their critiques, institutional explanations of welfare state retrenchment and restructuring, and the importance of multidimensional distributional effects for the analysis of social policy. The article concludes with a review of three more recent debates: the importance of public opinion and individual preferences for the development of the welfare state, the interaction of social policy and the changes of party systems, and the increasing relevance of social investment policies. The political and scientific need for innovative political science research will continue for the foreseeable future: Theory building and methodological possibilities are developing quickly, and the welfare states as research subject are constantly being challenged.
Fabián A. Borges
The last two decades witnessed an unprecedented decline in poverty across the developing world, a decline partly explained by the adoption of social cash transfer programs. Ironically, Latin America, traditionally the world’s most unequal region, has been a global trendsetter in this regard. Beginning in the late 1990s, governments across the region and across the ideological spectrum began adopting conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs, which award poor families regular stipends conditional on their children attending school and/or getting regular medical check-ups, and non-contributory pension (NCP) schemes for low-income and/or uncovered seniors. There is robust evidence that CCT programs achieve their short-term goals of reducing poverty while increasing school attendance and usage of health services. However, they do not improve learning and appear to be failing at their long-term goal of breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Likely as a result of low-quality education, long-term CCT beneficiaries do not have significantly better economic prospects than comparable non-beneficiaries. CCTs also have electoral effects—there is robust evidence from across the region that they increase support for incumbent presidential candidates. CCTs were a response to the two big transformations the region underwent during the 1980s: the debt crisis and subsequent lost decade and the transition of most countries to democracy. Increased economic insecurity following the crisis and subsequent neoliberal reforms represented both a threat to the survival of newly elected governments and an opportunity for politicians to win over voters through increased social assistance. Pioneered by Mexico and Brazil in the mid-1990s, CCTs were by far the most effective policies to emerge from that context. They quickly diffused across the region, often with support from international financial institutions. Counterintuitively, adoption appears to be unrelated to the ascendance of left-wing governments in the region during the 2000s. The politics of CCT design are less understood. The myriad ways in which design can be conceptualized and measured, combined with the relative newness of this literature, have limited the accumulation of knowledge. It does appear that left-wing governments adopt more expansive CCTs and de-emphasize conditionality enforcement. Whereas their initial adoption and expansion, which coincided with the 2000s economic boom, proved politically easy, further reductions in poverty will require politically difficult choices, namely, raising taxes and/or redirecting funds away from programs benefiting the better-off. Improving the long-term effectiveness of CCTs will require improving education quality, which in turn will require challenging the region’s powerful teachers’ unions.