1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Why Social Policy is Condemned to a Residual Category of Safety Nets and What to Do about It (Draft)

There are several stubborn causes of the problem alluded to in the title, but I choose to dwell on four that are less obvious and also lend themselves to suggestions for a research agenda of use to policymakers and program designors and executors in developing countries. The first is a tendency in the international donor community to conceive of social policy in a way that allows them to “projectize” and “micro-ize” it–a tendency that, remarkably, shows little variation from left to right across the donor spectrum. The second relates to the demise of the now-discredited models of import-substituting-industrialization and industrial policy–in many ways representing an advance in our understanding of development, but at the same time losing the strategic focus of this period on supporting the growth of local industry, and on including employment concerns centrally in economic-development policy, rather than marginalizing them. The third relates to the politics of the informal sector within developing countries, and how this–together with the preoccupation of the donor poverty agenda with the informal sector and small firms–renders more difficult the pursuit of certain aspects of a proper social-policy agenda within countries. The fourth points to the importance of managing the generic conflict of interest between workers and owners of capital through institutions of conflict mediation within countries, and the way in which this agenda is undermined, unintentionally, by certain aspects of the poverty-reducing agenda of the donor community. The paper includes a set of suggestions for comparative case-study research–based on the type of lessons that can be learned from a handful of illustrative cases presented in the paper–which could prove to be of benefit to policymakers and program designers and executors, as well as elevating certain aspects of social policy to more than a residual category with respect to economic development.

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