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

Política social y reforma social "a la tica": Un caso paradigmático de heterodoxia en el contexto de una economía periférica

This paper examines Costa Rican social policy in its historical context, seeking to understand its origins, its contribution to the nation’s development and the status of social reforms currently under way.
As background, it explores the deliberate intervention of the Costa Rican state in the social arena in the post-colonial period. Following the country’s emergence as an independent republic in 1821, there was an early recognition of the importance of “the social”, as it is referred to here.
Costa Rica’s undeniable achievements in this area, however, have occurred in the framework of the developmental strategy established in the 1950s. This strategy was based on a hybrid model combining agricultural exports with import substitution industrialization, and relied on the state to create the conditions—both material and social—necessary for development. Social investment and social policy were assigned particular priority in this phase of Costa Rica’s development, which clearly benefited from the economic expansion that followed the end of the Second World War.

In the early 1980s, a combination of domestic and international factors precipitated a crisis in the prevailing development model, and the nation’s social achievements were placed in serious jeopardy. Indeed, the situation began to deteriorate, as evidenced by increased unemployment and a resurgence of poverty. Social investment was, in general, protected—making Costa Rica an exception to the norm. However, over time, a decline in quality and fluctuations in the extent of coverage for social services could be seen.
In the mid-1980s, the country began to implement a new development model. Since that time, economic change, linked with export promotion and liberalization, has been occurring, though its course has been unsteady. As a result, Costa Rica is no longer a predominantly agricultural country, and today’s globalized world has brought an increasing influx of economic activity associated with the new information and knowledge society.

An examination of social policy during this same period reveals uneven sectoral and institutional reform in sectors where universal coverage is considered important (health, education, social security), as well as in the areas of social assistance and poverty reduction. Though some reform has occurred in these sectors, the efforts have been marked by a distinct lack of coordination. As a result of changes in development style—including the presence of new providers of social services—coupled with demographic changes, social policy is facing new challenges and demands. Among the concerns are questions of relevance, impact, efficiency, quality, comprehensiveness, and strengthening of the capacity for oversight and regulation.

In summary, the great challenge facing Costa Rica is to promote social reform in a manner that is harmonious with economic change and that advances the nation’s human development aspirations.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 15 Aug 2005
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8208
    From: UNRISD