Characteristics of ‘conservative' welfare states

August 15, 2015

Given that welfare states are normally associated with left of centre governments, and the supposed hostility of conservative right wing parties toward high levels of state intervention, the term ‘conservative welfare states' seems somewhat of an anomaly. Nonetheless, there are definite examples of conservative states that not only refrain from fighting the welfare state but actually encourage the dependence of citizens on the government. This can be traced back to the Bismarckian ‘corporatist' system of 19th century Germany, in which it was seen as in the interests of the state to look after the welfare of its citizens. This type of welfare state (in its extreme form) is less about reducing inequality and improving citizens lives than it is maintaining the status quo – a hierarchical system based on a culture of dependence (Esping-Anderson, 1990). Conservative welfare states are often religious and/or nationalist in nature, with a strong emphasis on family values. Epitomising such characteristics is arguably George Bush's current reign. Despite initial cuts in public expenditure, government spending has actually increased faster under Bush than it did under Bill Clinton, with an increase of almost 33%. The religious aspect of Bush's conservative system is illustrated with reference to his 2001 pledge to give billions of dollars to faith-based charities. Accepting the inevitability of ‘big government' (and thus the end of Conservative emphasis on cutting spending), the republican government under Bush has prioritised public spending partly according to religious preferences. Therefore, a ‘conservative' welfare state is one which uses welfare as a control mechanism, to advance a particular way of thinking – for instance religion, nationalism – on its citizens.

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