The Welfare State in The Twenty-First Century
Working Paper #312
Designing the twenty-first-century welfare state is part of a broader debate redefining the role of the market, the state, and “civil society”—non-state forms of collective action.
One of the tenets of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution was questioning the welfare state. Some worried that the financial burdens of the welfare state would drag down growth. Some worried about the effect of the welfare state on the sense of individual responsibility, others that the welfare state provides an opportunity for the lazy and profligate to take advantage of hardworking citizens. A sense of social solidarity had united citizens around the world during World War II. Some thirty years after that global conflict, that solidarity was eroding, and economic arguments quickened its disintegration. Even two decades after the doctrines of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s had taken root—and long after its shortcomings had become obvious—others argued that the welfare state had contributed to the euro crisis.
This paper argues that these arguments criticizing the welfare state are for the most part fallacious and that changes in our economy have even increased the importance of the system. The paper then describes some of the key elements of a twenty-first-century welfare state.
About the Author
Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD)
Joseph E. Stiglitz is President of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, and Chairman of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. He is University Professor at Columbia, teaching in its Economics Department, its Business School, and its School of International and Public Affairs. He chaired the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, created in the aftermath of the financial crisis by the President of the General Assembly. He is former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank and Chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2001.