Explaining the Welfare State: Power Resources vs. the Quality of Government

The hitherto most successful theory explaining why similar industrialized market economies have developed such varying systems for social protection is the Power Resource Theory (PRT), according to which the generosity of the welfare state is a function of working class mobilization. In this paper, we argue that there is an under-theorized link in the micro-foundations for PRT, namely why wage earners trying to cope with social risks and demand for redistribution would turn to the state for a solution. Our approach, the Quality of Government (QoG) theory, stresses the importance of trustworthy, impartial, and uncorrupted government institutions as a precondition for citizens’ willingness to support policies for social insurance. Drawing on data on 18 OECD countries during 1984–2000, we find (a) that QoG positively affects the size and generosity of the welfare state, and (b) that the effect of working class mobilization on welfare state generosity increases with the level of QoG.

Rothstein, Bo, Marcus Samanni, and Jan Teorell. 2011. “Explaining the Welfare State: Power Resources vs. the Quality of Government.” European Political Science Review 4:1-28.