The measurement of the performance of nations and welfare regimes as a corrective for learning societies

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For the international comparison of the performance of societies I propose a system of continuous social observation, based on a discussion of moral values in social philosophy, which results in eight (partially conflicting) performance criteria to compare the “welfare of nations”: prosperity and growth; environmental sustainability ; innovation; social security by providing support in case of risk and precautionary through investments in education; equality of participation (universality); appreciation of particularities (women-friendliness and migrants-friendliness); social integration; autonomy (freedom of choice and capabilities).

I compare 4 Scandinavian nations, 7 Continental European nations, 6 Anglo-Saxon nations, 6 Southern European nations, 13 Eastern European nations, Turkey as well as Japan and South Korea besides Brazil and South Africa as well as China and India with respect to their prosperity and welfare.

Polity, economy and society, an international comparison by 43 country-case studies

In case studies of the 43 countries under consideration it is attempted to explain the performance regarding each of the socially desirable goals in part by the logic of institutions and the policies implemented.

As institutions I examine: Political regime, economy, gender roles, social security systems (pension, health, labour market, family) and education. On the basis of the logic of the institutions for each nation the welfare logic and the trend of development are elaborated.

Further differentiation of welfare regimes

As a systematic starting point for the comparison of societies I prefer the three worlds of welfare of Esping-Andersen (1990) and I upgrade it to a differentiation in (at least) six different welfare logics, which are reflected in different modernization paths. In addition to the universalistic logic of production and distribution of welfare on the basis of equal citizenship rights and corresponding obligations Esping-Andersen considers the status-preserving and the economically liberal welfare logic. As characteristics of a conservative welfare logic I consider the gender division of labour in society in addition to the status-preserving what triggers some assignment problems, in my view. The Netherlands and Switzerland then belong to the conservative welfare regime of continental Europe. With Leibfried, Ferrera and others, I distinguish the status-preserving, but only residual welfare systems of Southern Europe as fourth welfare regime from the welfare systems at an intermediate level in Continental Europe. The postsocialist countries of Eastern Europe are in a process of differentiation into various subgroups. The welfare regimes of East Asia with its orientation towards success in the global markets through systematic promotion of technology to increase competitiveness can probably best be described as productivist.

For six of the criteria, the error in the prediction of the performance is reduced by more than 60% by the knowledge of the welfare regime type.

„Informal Security Regimes“

Taking into account not only the developed countries, it is necessary to make further distinctions in the production and distribution of welfare. Gough (2004) proposes to distinguish in addition to the “welfare state regimes”, analysed by Esping-Andersen and other authors, “informal security regimes”, in which the major number of people rely on informal networks to secure their livelihood, and “insecurity regimes”, in which even those informal networks are constantly threatened and endangered, as it is the case e.g. in civil war-like conditions.

In my studies, emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa are taken into account, where a large number of people need to secure their livelihoods through informal networks.

The importance of gender roles and division of labour between the sexes in the provision of care work

If you look at the production and distribution of welfare in the “welfare triangle” of state, market and family , as in the fundamental approach of Esping-Andersen (1990), then you have to give a higher priority to the provision of care work by women in families and households and thus the gender roles and the division of labour between the sexes, than Esping-Andersen carries out in 1990. For example, one would have to assess the Switzerland primarily a conservative welfare arrangement than an economically liberal.

Welfare and education regimes

In analogy to the welfare regimes, ideal types of education regimes could be distinguished. The education regimes follow in part similar underlying logics. The status allocation by the education system has such a high significance that we should extend the theory of welfare regimes to a theory of welfare and education regimes.

The world financial crisis and the euro crisis as the actual social challenges

From the current financial crisis, the welfare regimes are severely affected because the financial crisis has finally led to a crisis of the state budgets. Most affected by the crisis are the states, which have set up a credit financed growth model such as the Baltic States. States that are less dependent on exports – such as Poland – are less affected by the crisis. The welfare state is an automatic stabilizer in economic crises, because the purchasing power of consumers is largely preserved.

A system of long-term monitoring for measuring the welfare performance of nations and welfare regimes

The best reform program would be to organize the development of societies as a learning process. To elaborate models of good institutional frameworks for societies, the comparison of the welfare of nations should be extended to such a broad list of socially desirable goals and quality criteria as corrective, as I have suggested here for a system of social long-term monitoring.


Esping-Andersen, Gøsta: The three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge 1990: Polity Press.

Holtmann, Dieter: The wealth and welfare of nations at change. Prosperity and growth versus environmental sustainability, innovation versus social security by providing support in case of risk and precautionary through investments in education, women-friendliness as well as migrants-friendliness and equality of participation, social integration and autonomy (freedom of choice and capabilities)in international comparison. Aachen 2014: Shaker Verlag,386 pages.

Holtmann, Dieter: Polity, economy and society in international comparison . 43 country-case studies. Aachen 2015: Shaker Verlag,616 pages.

Gough, Ian et al.: Insecurity and Welfare Regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Social Policy in Development Contexts. Cambridge 2004: Cambridge University Press.

Dieter Holtmann

Dieter Holtmann was professor for methods of empirical social research at the universities of Bielefeld, Duisburg and then at the university of Potsdam. His main area of study is comparative welfare research.






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