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Prospects for basic income in developing countries: a comparative analysis of welfare regimes in the south

Jeremy Seekings

University of Cape Town

CSSR Working Paper No. 104

February 2005

SARPN acknowledges UCT's Centre for Social Science Research as a source of this document:
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This paper explores the prospects for future pro-poor reforms to welfare regimes in the ‘South’ through an analysis of the development of Southern welfare regimes in the past. Esping-Andersen’s approach to the analysis of distribution is inadequate in Southern conditions primarily due to its neglect of the ways in which states influence distribution through shaping the development or economic growth path. Even if we narrow our analysis to the provision of income security, Esping-Andersen’s ‘three worlds’ typology is less useful in the South than an alternative typology that distinguishes between ‘agrarian’, ‘inegalitarian corporatist’ and ‘redistributive’ welfare regimes. The ‘redistributive’ regimes are those that entail significant social assistance, i.e. provision for a minimum cash income, at least for specified categories of ‘deserving’ poor, that is not dependent on past contributions. These (rare) regimes have their origins in both reform from above (pre-emptive action by elites concerned with the social, economic and political problems posed by poverty) or below, following democratisation. In most cases, the prerequisites for reform are deagrarianisation (and the collapse of kin-based poverty alleviation) and the limited development of formal contributory welfare systems in the formal sector of the economy. Well-developed insurance systems can easily impede the development of social assistance. The electoral strength of poor citizens not covered by social insurance is a crucial factor in most cases, especially recent ones.


The word ‘crisis’ has been widely used in discussions of welfare states and regimes in the late twentieth century. ‘Almost all advanced industrial democracies cut entitlements in some programs in this period’, summarise Huber and Stephens in their book Development and Crisis of the Welfare State (2001: 1). In the developing world, also, a key World Bank study (1994) was entitled Averting the Old-Age Crisis, and commentators widely charged that the World Bank was imposing cuts in the form of the Chilean ‘neo-liberal’ model on countries across the South. But it is now clear that in the North, it is politically difficult to roll back substantially the public provision of welfare (Pierson, 1994, 2000; Huber and Stephens, 2001) whilst across much of the South, pressures to expand welfare provision have grown. It is true that the Chilean/World Bank model of privatising the contributory pension system has been extended to other parts of Latin America (including, between 1993 and 1997 alone, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia and Mexico) and post-Communist Eastern Europe and central Asia (including Hungary, Poland and Kazakhstan). At the same time, however, welfare provision in some other parts of the South (including Brazil and Mexico; South Africa, Namibia and Botswana; India and Nepal; Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) has been extended to the poor, especially through social assistance schemes or other moves in the direction of a guaranteed or ‘basic’ income. In some settings, even the Chilean/World Bank model might entail an extension of welfare coverage to a larger proportion of the poor. Whatever the validity of criticisms of the Chilean/World Bank model, the end of the twentieth century was probably a period of unprecedented expansion in public cash transfers to the very poor in the South as a whole.

Is it possible to discern clear patterns in the ways in which states have responded at the end of the twentieth century and start of the twenty-first to the evolving social and political pressures of poverty, inequality and risk? Why do some states adopt expansionary reforms whilst others retrench? Answers to these kinds of questions applied to the countries of the North typically employ a variant of Esping- Andersen’s typology of different ‘worlds of welfare capitalism’ (for the original typology, see Esping-Andersen, 1990). Esping-Andersen identified three distinct patterns of state intervention in the advanced capitalist countries of the North (including Australia and New Zealand). In each case, the state intervened through social and (to a lesser extent) labour-market policies to reduce inequality (both between individuals and across the life-cycle), but the form of that intervention differed in terms of the scale of public expenditure and the extent to which the state displaced the market and family in determining the incomes and welfare of its citizens. At the end of the twentieth century, these different clusters of states responded differently to fiscal, demographic and political pressures (Esping-Andersen, 1999, 2002). Path dependence was not rigid and immutable, but the conditions that produced distinctive welfare regimes and the effects of the different regimes themselves certainly influenced the ways in which they later evolved.

Can a comparative, historical analysis of the development of ‘welfare’ systems in the South also inform an analysis of contemporary reforms and even the prospects for further reform in this poorer and less studied part of the world? Unfortunately, typologies of ‘welfare capitalism’ are largely limited to the countries of the North, and the constituent elements of ‘welfare capitalism’ in the South are somewhat different to those of the North (at least as analysed by Esping-Andersen).

In this paper I review, firstly, the existing literature on states and distribution in the North and South. I then analyse four different approaches to the provision of welfare in the South in the twentieth century. Two of these share sufficient key features that we can combine them and identify three different ‘worlds’ of welfare capitalism in the South: an agrarian world, one that I clumsily term ‘inegalitarian corporatist’, and a redistributive one. In practice, elements of two or even all three of these are combined in the real worlds of welfare capitalism in the South, but in greatly differing proportions. I pay special attention to the third, or ‘redistributive’ world, that is defined by the provision of social assistance to citizens, at least when they fall into ‘deserving’ categories of the poor. The final part of the paper examines some of the social – and political – origins of these redistributive regimes, i.e. of social assistance in the South, paying particular attention to the moments and conditions in which regimes chose redistributive rather than agrarian or corporatist options. The paper ends with some speculation as to how these different approaches might evolve in the near future, paying particular attention to the prospects for radical pro-poor reform, towards a basic income.

This paper entails work-in-progress, primarily because a wider range of data needs to be collated and analysed. Ideally, an enquiry of this sort would combine the historical approach of (say) Barrington Moore, analysing telling case-studies, with more quantitative analysis of cross-national data. The combination would be comparable to, say, projects such as Rueschemeyer et al.’s study of democratisation or Esping-Andersen’s own Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Collating historical statistics on the South is no easy task, however, and much more work is required. The evidence in this data therefore involves primarily the preliminary analysis of case-studies, and presents little quantitative cross-national data.

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