4th Van Doorn lecture by Bea Cantillon, December 20th 2021
Disappointing poverty trends and the tragedy of the active welfare state: which policies for the future ?
Taking Rawls theory of justice as ethical compass, the primary mission of the welfare state is to improve, to the extent possible, the living conditions of the most vulnerable. However, the empirical evidence suggests that, while relative income poverty among the elderly has declined quite substantially in many countries over the past decades, since the nineties of the previous century, poverty among the working age population started to grow. From the Rawlsian perspective that social and economic inequality is only justified if the least advantaged in society benefit from it, the disquieting simultaneous increase of inequality and poverty raises the question why, in general, have rich welfare democracies in the past decades not been successful in reducing poverty despite higher incomes and employment rates?
We argue that the halt of the post-war virtuous circle of growth, employment and poverty reduction is systemic in nature, that is a) consistent with the basic characteristics of the post-war national welfare state and b) encompassing the organization of the welfare state as a whole. Alternative policy orientations beyond the strategies deployed today are needed, such as, for instance, a partial basis income, support for social entrepreneurship and wealth taxation.