ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Welfare without Work or Wages

A Contradiction?

Reiterations of the state’s responsibilities have emerged at a time when the market had gained legitimacy of hegemonic proportions. This new thinking can be seen as an effort to redefine the state’s welfarist profile. Closely tied to the idea of democracy and civil society’s initiatives as means of securing the state’s obligations, these discourses and policies remain exclusively focused on welfare-related social policies, while work and work-related rights have been pushed to the margins of the framework of state responsibility. This widely shared position fails to engage with broader political economy issues, particularly with the specificity of the ever expanding domain of irregular workers, and the contradictions of talking about welfare, but not about work or wages.

The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewer for comments and suggestions. She is also grateful to Aparna Sundar for comments on an earlier draft of this paper, which was also presented at a seminar at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

As a generalised critique of the iniquitous nature of globalisation/market-led development began to emerge in both academic and public discourses, the expansion of social rights became part of the defined political agenda of democratic governments. Scholarship on new welfarism mirrors and supports the new political and policy discourse on rights, reflecting, to some extent, essential Keynesian principles of the post-World War II Western welfare state. The distinctiveness of these discourses, emerging from global institutions and leading scholars, at a time when the market had gained legitimacy of hegemonic proportions, lies in the reiterations of the state’s centrality, and in the shaping of a new political normativity of justice and public responsibility. Do they do more? Does a substantively new theory of the state emerge from contemporary writings on the capitalist developmental state?

Received literature on this theme has looked closely at both governance and politics of welfare. This paper takes a somewhat different route to argue that, by focusing exclusively on social policies relating to basic services and human resources, the welfare paradigm has turned the discourse of state responsibilities away from the political economy questions of work, wages, and income. Drawing mainly on available work, including my own, on urban informal workers, the paper argues that for large numbers of the poor, their structural situation in the world of informal work with low incomes and precarious livelihoods constitute the rough edge of poverty and exclusion. The fragmented structure of the informal sector workforce, by and large, precludes a sustained, systematic, and organised representation of their interests. The structure and politics of informality, thus, could be central to understanding the limits of welfare. And, the welfare paradigm could become a shield for ignoring the most stubborn dimensions of poverty, rooted in an economic policy regime, which creates and recreates the poor’s lack of access to skills, secure work, and regular incomes. This paper draws attention to the distinctive features on the new thinking on welfare in the capitalist developmental state.

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Updated On : 31st Aug, 2018
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