After the fall of the Wall in 1989, many political scientists believed that the world was definitely turning ‘democratic’. What they meant was merely the world becoming ‘liberal democratic’ though. Free and fair elections would make political participation grow and, in addition, freedom of expression and association would create a pluralistic mode of representation allowing for indirect democratic governance of society. In short: Polyarchy, government by many, as coined and elaborated already in 1971 by Robert Dahl would prevail across the world. Yet, we observe as the 21st century moves on that various forms of backsliding are manifesting due to flawed processes and occasionally showing defective trends. For example, electoral manipulation is occurring, the rule of law is often under siege, and the ’stateness’, or policy performance, is regularly below par. In short: The level of democraticness, also in established polities, appears to be in peril. Is this indeed the case? According to The Economist, it is, reporting the state of democracy as follows: "Democracy was dealt a major blow in 2020. Almost 70% of countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index recorded a decline in their overall score. (…) The global average score fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006" (The Economist, 2021).
They are not alone in their fear of decline of ‘liberal’ democracy in the 21st century. Since the latter part of the 20th century, various agencies have emerged measuring the level of democraticness, such as Freedom House, Polity IV and recently Varieties of Democracy. They attempt to record the level and change of democraticness globally (Schmidt, 2019). Their annual publications demonstrate a downward trend in terms of the level of democraticness (Keman, 2002). These listings are not only worrying but often taken at face value. Yet, the conceptualization and concomitant measurement of democracy differ considerably (OECD, 2014). This brings up the issue what is the virtue of such ranking orders and how serious should we take them?
In this chapter, I will first introduce the concept of ‘polyarchy’ as a comparative variable. Secondly, I shall scrutinize the efforts to measure democraticness across the OECD-world. Thirdly, I will discuss the application of the results to the idea of ‘waves of democratization’ (Huntington, 1993) arguing that these waves fail to tell the whole story. Nevertheless, the ranking of polities indicates that the level of democraticness is worrisome in the 21st century, yet falls short in terms of explanation. The conclusion is therefore that ‘ranking the stars’ may be useful but insufficient to understand what happens where and why with what effect in the democratic world.
Van Kersbergen argued that Christian democratic parties had a commitment to the social insurance welfare state and subsidiarity in social services, which expressed itself in support for social spending on pensions and unemployment insurance and less support for spending on public social services and public education. We are exploring whether these commitments changed over time through a quantitative analysis of the relationship between Christian democratic incumbency and expenditure patterns and social rights indicators in the pre- and post 2000 periods.
After the war, Christian democratic parties adopted a political formula that brought them political domination in much of western Europe for two decades. These parties have historically profited from the existence of a religious cleavage in western Europe. Since a few decades Christian Democratic parties across Europe are under pressure and are losing supporters. This chapter focusses on the demise of the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands. Secularisation since the 1960s, the structural decline of the religious cleavage and a loss of ideological profile makes that the Christian Democratic party CDA is on a long-term trajectory of decline. Results from Dutch election studies show how the rise of a new educational cleavage, manifest in the support for new political parties that mobilise at a new cultural dimension of political conflict. This leaves little room for political and electoral manoeuvre for the Christian Democratic party in the Dutch Diploma Democracy.
In 1991, Gladdish argued that Dutch politics was ‘governing from the centre’. An important reason for this description was the strong centripetal forces of the Dutch party system, which in turn were closely related to the pivotal position of Christian democratic parties, particularly the CDA, in the Dutch party system. Not least due to their role in government formation, the CDA was the central actor behind the ‘governing from the centre’ (van Kersbergen, 1993; 1997). This ‘governing from the centre’, of course, also influenced policy making in the Netherlands, especially what Keman (1997) has called the politics of problem-solving. Quite a lot has happened to the Dutch party system and the CDA since 1991. However, the description of Dutch politics as ‘governing from the centre’ appears just as relevant in 2022 as in 1991. This chapter thus argues that despite the huge changes to the Dutch party system including the decline of the CDA, centripetal dynamics continue to dominate the Dutch party system, and that the centrist focus of Dutch politics has not changed much since 1991. This also holds for the still comparatively high reform capacity in the Netherlands. At the same time, the politics of problem-solving has become increasingly difficult.
In his excellent study social capitalism, Kees van Kersbergen predicted the end of Christian democracy as one of the major political forces in those countries where it had had a decisive influence on the welfare state: Holland, Germany, Italy. It had lost its function and its basis, he claimed. In the short term, that was not what happened: after 1995, when the book was published, both in Germany and the Netherlands CDA and CDU/CSU performed relatively well. It made a comeback and certainly in Germany it experienced a period of major success. The parties, in other words, seemed to have the ability to adapt to new circumstances that differed considerably from those in which they originated. In the longer run, however, his prediction seems to have come true in a number of countries: Christian democracy has practically imploded in Holland, Belgium, Italy and Austria. In Germany it seems to be more resilient. But what about social democracy? Is the game over for this political family? At the end of the 20th century, its death had already been proclaimed by many, among whom Ralph Dahrendorf was one of the most outstanding. But instead of its funeral, we witnessed the ‘magical return of social democracy’ in the nineties. Social democracy seemed to have overcome its existential crisis. But not for long, although the picture is not quite one-dimensional. But in Holland – like in France – the social democratic party has become a marginal phenomenon if it hasn’t practically vaporised. In this essay, we will analyse in seven theses the major causes and aspects of the ‘magical disappearance’ of Dutch social democracy, ranging from ideological decay to generational political asymmetry and the representation gap, using the perspectives of both political sociology and history (‘annales-light’). And of course, we will address the question: Is there any hope left? Will Dutch social democracy be able to perform the Houdini act?
The last decades, all welfare states have been confronted with major challenges. Hence reform is necessary, although governments may struggle with how to organize reform and gain support for it. While part of reform policies may consist of retrenchment policies, such as cutbacks in more traditional welfare state provisions like pensions and social security, others might focus more on shifting paradigms, as the turn to social investment illustrates, focusing not only on retrenchment but also on investment to meet new social risks such as care and gender equality. Whatever the paradigm might be, one of the most complex challenges governments face is a political/democratic challenge: governing for the long term is not in the interest of political leaders, because it leads to electoral losses. Peter Mair's famous thesis, the responsiveness/responsibility dilemma, is still very relevant if we want to understand reform strategies. Governing for the long term by implementing radical welfare state reform (responsibility) can lead to decreasing electoral popularity (responsiveness). In this chapter, we rethink this dilemma, mirroring the argument made by Hemerijck and Van Kersbergen (2019) that transformative change is easiest in consensus democracies. We analyze how welfare state reform is not only a matter of implementing institutional change and the political interests that play a role during this process, but also the political input and outcome that take place before and after the process of change. We illustrate this thesis with a case study of radical reform in the Netherlands - the case of long term care (LTC) and the Social Support Act, connecting political practice and theories on political and institutional processes of welfare state change. Moreover, we argue that healthcare reform deserves more attention in welfare state research, since it is not only one of the most expensive pillars of welfare states, but also one of the most appreciated services among the electorate. Hence, reform is very necessary and very hard at the same time.
Digitalization and automation are rapidly changing labor markets and, as a consequence, welfare state policies and politics. But who should be in charge of managing this transition? Using novel survey data from the 2020 wave of the OECD Risks that Matter survey for 24 OECD countries, this chapter explores public views on this important issue. On the one hand, individuals might regard the issue of dealing with the consequences of technological change as a matter of self-responsibility. On the other hand, the public could make collective actors such as unions, governments, businesses or other civil society actors responsible. This short essay explores cross-national and individual-level variation on this question, showing that both individual background factors as well as the welfare state context matters.
Kees has investigated many aspects of the welfare state. But one aspect remains under-investigated in his long list of publications: how to organize the welfare state. In this contribution to the festschrift, we highlight how organization matters to the way the welfare state works. We focus on the perhaps most fundament organizational issue: the size of the polity. In almost all welfare states – and certainly the Danish one, which Kees has made his home – core welfare functions are left in the hands of local authorities. The optimal size of these authorities has been a hot topic in political science for centuries, if not millennia. With the rise of the welfare state over the past fifty years, this optimal size of local authorities has gained renewed importance because it suddenly matters in important ways to the lives of ordinary citizens. In this contribution we address how the size of local authorities matters to three core issues in the modern welfare state: expenditure on welfare programs, the effectiveness of welfare programs, and citizens’ democratic participation. We provide empirical evidence from research on the Danish 2007 municipal reform, which represents an unusually promising testing ground for these questions.
What are the social risks, benefits and living conditions associated with old age in three distinct social policy contexts, namely Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands? And how do they vary, all depending on citizens’ prior life course in terms of employment and income status? These are the leading questions that shall guide our analyses. Building on data from the OECD, Eurostat, and the EU-Silc, we shall analyze both ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ measures of well-being among individuals aged 65+, systematically comparing single and partnered persons in the three nations. As to the objective dimension, we shall focus on retirement incomes for individuals (and households) representing low (i.e. poverty), medium and high income, as well as lifelong stable as well as an intermittent and more unstable, employment careers. As regards the subjective well-being dimension, we shall profit from EU-Silc’s inclusion of data on respondents’ self-evaluation of their social and economic welfare status and life satisfaction. In order to contextualize our data on welfare levels and distributions, we shall (in brevity) include descriptions of the three countries’ basic social policy characteristics from the perspective of the retiree population, i.e. income support (pension systems) and access to services (healthcare, affordable intensive care).
Continental welfare states’ reform pathways in the direction of social investment are truncated for three interrelated reasons. For one, continental labour markets institutionally favour high wages and social insurance benefits for adult workers to support their nuclear families. Second, traditional family values make Bismarckian welfare states ideologically ill at ease with full-time female employment. Third, these two policy legacies have been reinforced politically by Christian democracy and institutionally by the social partnership practices with a strong preference for standard employment relations. Any success in social investment reform across continental welfare states therefore has to be able to transcend male breadwinner and female homemaker cultural-political preferences, whilst allowing for greater labour market flexibility and dual earner family policy to open up employment opportunities for working women. An in-depth comparison between Germany and the Netherlands reveals a general reform sequence pattern, whereby, first, male-breadwinner labour markets are being liberalized, usually under conditions of fiscal dire straits, with significant social and political strife. After the liberalization dust settles, female employment grows and this, in turn, raises popular demand for dual-earner family servicing. Interestingly, at that stage Christian democracy, erstwhile champions of traditional family values, reassesses its conception of the family in the direction of social investment without much resistance. Our argument builds on – and extends – the argument advanced by Hemerijck and Schludi (2000), who analyse welfare state change in terms of reform sequencing, demonstrating how critical changes in one policy domain in the political economy become important drivers of reform in neighbouring policy areas. As such, sequentially related reforms create new economic dynamics for relevant stakeholders, and institutional practices and political preferences are updated. Bismarckian welfare states are largely funded by social contributions. The implication is that their financial survival hinges inexorably on the capacity of the labour market to generate and sustain high employment levels. However, precisely because of hefty social contributions, Continental welfare states have traditionally struggled more than their Anglo-Saxon and Nordic counterparts to generate employment in the service sector. Ultimately, to fiscally sustain expensive welfare provision, even if only for labour market insiders, governments are pressed to prod inactive citizens, especially women and older workers, to (re-)enter the labour market, in a manner to smooth out labour market dualization in the long run. Empirically, we map efforts of social investment recalibration from a single to a dual breadwinner model in the Netherlands and Germany over the past three decades. Our analysis identifies a common reform-sequencing path in these two countries. This reform sequencing involves, first, market liberalization in response to fiscal pressures on welfare provision, and, second, family policy innovation aimed at relieving women from the traditional care and child-raising obligations. Our analysis identifies this sequence in the Netherlands between the 1980s and 1990s, in Germany over the first decade of the new millennium. In practical terms, Germany’s later social investment turn reveals a considerable ‘advantage of backwardness’ when it comes to childcare provision, as the early mover Netherlands, with very little experience in family services provision, opted around 2000 for a very expensive and difficult to manage system of public subsidies to private provision.
Claims of Scandinavian exceptionalism have a long history in comparative political economy and welfare state research, not least regarding their approach to inequality. But are Scandinavian political parties and citizens (still) committed egalitarians? This chapter sets out to contribute to this debate by investigating over time trends in both political and popular support for reducing inequality. In doing so, it explores not only levels of support for redistribution but also the degree of cross-party/voter variation in that support – examining the extent to which parties and voters of differing political persuasion have remained supportive of a broader egalitarian project. Through an analysis of party manifesto and public opinion data, this approach allows us to investigate the durability of Scandinavian egalitarian exceptionalism and the extent to which political parties in these countries still reflect a broad, pro-redistribution, middle-class consensus.
Liberalization, broadly understood as the removal of market barriers, has been a prominent trend in both coordinated and liberal market economies the last fifty years. For political dynamics, the process of liberalization is relevant because reforms may create clear groups of winners and losers. However, our theoretical and empirical knowledge about the distributional implications of liberalization is still limited. We argue that liberalization can increase inequality in two ways: either by increasing market income inequality or by reducing compensatory redistribution through government taxes and transfers. In this chapter, we study the relationship between liberalization and income inequality using an encompassing new database on liberalizing reforms in 13 policy fields, covering 18 advanced capitalist democracies between 1974 and 2013. Using error correction models, we find that the more markets are liberalized, the more disposable income inequality increases in the long run. This effect is driven both by rising market inequality and declining redistribution. Furthermore, we find that the impact of liberalization is moderated by compensatory de-liberalizing reforms, and that inequality partly reflects the long-term outcome of previous levels of regulation.
It is a widely held view that a skewed wealth distribution is negatively associated with democratic quality. In our attempt to answer this question, we first make clear what we mean by economic inequality and democratic quality. We then identify theoretical arguments put forward in the more general literature and discuss their relevance for our research question. We use datasets from Solt (2020) and V-Dem (Coppedge et al. 2021) to examine the empirical association in a global analysis based on a series of two-way fixed effects models. The results indicate that economic inequality is not a robust predictor of democratic quality. This is surprising given the strong arguments in favor of a substantial, negative relationship found in the literature and the fact that many public intellectuals assume the presence of a clear and inauspicious association. We conclude the paper with some reflections about whether the null-finding means that we have to reject altogether the idea that economic inequality undermines popular sovereignty.
The chapter discusses the political science of party behavior. We explore and synthesise the literature using theories of power as our analytical lens, distinguishing between decision-making, agenda-setting, and manipulation as modal forms of behavior. Based on this, we discuss the lacking analytical integration of the three forms of party power in current political science and point to avenues for future research.
One’s most ambitious ideas are not necessarily the ones that become most cited. I remember Kees being quite proud of ‘Quasi-messianism and the disenchantment of politics’ (2010) at the time he wrote it. Arguably, it was indeed too foresighted (dare I say ‘messianistic’?) and ahead of its time. In this contribution, I revisit the article’s argument, and I add some reflections from four perspectives: a) ‘the history of political ideas’, b) ‘recent research on populism’, c) ‘on technocracy’, and d) the ‘future of party politics’.
In perhaps one of his most obscure publications, van Kersbergen (2010) introduces the concept of quasi-messianism. This concept captures how ‘down-to-earth political projects (…) got charged with an inspiring and imaginative sense of purpose, direction and meaning.’ Van Kersbergen ties the absence of such quasi-messianistic projects to contemporary disaffection with democracy. In the happy days of 2010, van Kersbergen expressed hope that Barack Obama’s extraordinary leadership could launch new quasi-messianistic projects. While these projects never materialized, contemporary politics is increasingly characterized by strong political identities and ingroup bias. In this chapter, I reassess quasi-messianistic leadership as defined by van Kersbergen (2010) and explore how this concept is useful for understanding contemporary political leadership. I define how quasi-messianistic leadership differs from allied concepts such as authentic or charismatic leadership. I also explore the consequences of quasi-messianistic leadership for political behavior, and political disaffection specifically.
At the beginning of the 1980s, I made a first attempt to formulate the rules of the empirical science game. Since then, I taught courses on epistemology for many years. This obliged me to think through this subject matter again and again. With the result that I grew increasingly dissatisfied with my first efforts, because I had failed to see that Imre Lakatos’s ‘Methodology of scientific research programmes’ added something essential to Karl Popper’s perceptions on the falsification of empirical theories. In my contribution, I shall set out the arguments why I believe this to be the case.
As is well understood by Kees van Kersbergen, welfare states are largely national welfare states. This is not to say that the EU and national welfare states never clash. This contribution details such an encounter, pitting the EU’s core mission to create and sustain a single market against national welfare state diversity. It deals with the revision of the pension fund directive (IORP II, adopted in 2016) and analyzes the failed attempt by the EU Commission to increase and harmonize solvency standards for pension funds– an initiative that, if successful, would have had large consequences for scheme members and sponsors in member states such as the Netherlands and the UK. Having escaped scholarly attention, the failed initiative is worth presenting as an example of how forcefully and effectively vested national welfare state interests can defend themselves against EU intrusion when the stakes are high.
European welfare states face substantial recalibration in the face of major EU policy initiatives such as the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) and the European Green Deal (EGD). Notably, social and employment policy as well as energy and climate policy have been increasingly intertwined in the EU’s policymaking visions on ensuring a just and inclusive transition to a sustainable future for EU citizens. With the early 2022 Russian aggression in Ukraine and the already visible policy repercussions for EU economies and energy sectors, the need for policy coordination in these two domains is only likely to increase. In recent reflections on the evolution of the EU’s Open Method of Coordination, the authors argued that this mode of governance, which is central to EU’s social policy and energy policy making, fosters ‘creative appropriation’ and policy leverage for both national and EU-level actors. This contribution focuses on the EU level and explores to what extent the mechanism of creative appropriation is visible in interlinkages between the EPSR and the EGD by tracing the policymaking of policy entrepreneurs advocating this just and inclusive transition. Creative appropriation, against the background of a trend towards EU ‘harder’ soft governance may, in the long run, help build more sustainable welfare states, even against domestic resistance.
Geopolitical and climate challenges have pushed reform of the EU to the forefront of the political agenda. How can a union of 27 member states with a population of over half a billion be reformed to best address future crises and challenges? Finding an answer is extremely difficult. Some, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, call for the creation a political union that would aid the euro in withstanding economic shocks and secure financial stability in the long run. Yet others, like Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, warn that further pooling of sovereignty at the EU level might provoke serious a backlash from national publics and Eurosceptic political entrepreneurs. Reform proposals range from a full-fledged political union to partial repatriation of powers to nation states. Not only politicians are divided; the public is as well. Some parts of the public are sceptical, others support the status quo of EU membership, and others wish further integration. Yet, what we do not know is whether these differences in public opinion also translate into different preferences for reform of the EU. Given that public opinion is divided, it is important to carefully craft survey instruments that allow us to understand what kinds of European integration and which type of reform Europeans actually want. The multidimensional and complex nature of public support for European integration should thus receive much more scholarly attention.
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