Power, Order, and the Politics of Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe

40 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2009 Last revised: 20 Feb 2009

Date Written: January 19, 2009


I discuss the use of power to safeguard political stability by policymakers in four post-communist cases: Hungary and Poland, and Estonia and Latvia. My treatment is in line with traditional path dependency and 'generous' or 'emergency' welfare state interpretations, but adds a more strategic dimension. I emphasize that post-communist elites could to some degree choose which social risks to accommodate (and how), and which social cleavages to play down (or accentuate). This in turn has helped to reduce the likelihood that wide, class-based coalitions of at-risk workers would mobilize against reforms. Policymakers in the Visegrad cases have not merely provided (generous) emergence safety nets for exogenously given groups of at-risk citizens. They have proactively reshaped the distributions of transition winners and losers in the polity, and of contributors and dependants in the welfare state. Building on Laitin (1998, 2007), Bloom (2008), and others, my two Baltic cases in turn discuss the use of political power along yet another dimension - ethnicity. Recent advances in political economy (Alesina and La Ferera 2005) and social capital theory (Putnam 2007) have documented the manifold negative effects of ethno-linguistic heterogeneity on variables such as public good provision, and other forms of social solidarity. Here I point out how the new Baltic elites proactively remodeled the distribution of transition winners and losers along ethnic lines. Power-holders thereby designed public policies and shaped social solidarity in ways that made existing levels of ethno-linguistic heterogeneity politically more salient, at the expense of class and other social cleavages.

Keywords: comparative welfare states, political power, social cleavages, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, ethnicity, pensions

Suggested Citation

Vanhuysse, Pieter, Power, Order, and the Politics of Social Policy in Central and Eastern Europe (January 19, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1330171 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1330171

Pieter Vanhuysse (Contact Author)

University of Southern Denmark ( email )

Campusvej 55
DK 5230 Odense

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