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The economics of the welfare state in today’s world

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This article is concerned both with the substantive policy issue of the implications of the European welfare state in a global setting and with the way in which economists analyse the welfare state. Economics has made a major contribution to our understanding of the welfare state through the provision of formal models. These have allowed us to see the implications of social protection for countries increasingly open to international competition. These models, however, leave out essential elements, and the standard Heckscher–Ohlin 2-good, 2-factor, 2-country assumptions impose too tight a straitjacket. We do not observe full factor price equalisation. The paper considers how we might relax this straitjacket to incorporate elements that are important in the public debate, while preserving tractability. The resulting 3×3×3 model is used to investigate the impact of globalisation on the welfare state, contrasting Europe and the US.

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