Andrew Gamble, Can the Welfare State Survive?

Andrew Gamble, Can the Welfare State Survive? Polity, 2016, 0 7456 9874 8, pbk, vi + 125 pp, £9.99

This concise and well-argued book sets out from a broad European definition of ‘welfare’, which includes state spending that invests in human capital and responds to collective risks, rather than from a US-style welfare designed only for the poor. A history of the European welfare state and a discussion of Esping-Andersen’s ‘three worlds of welfare capitalism’ are followed by a description of the increasingly precarious state of Europe’s welfare provision. Gamble then discusses the socialist case for a redistributive welfare state, the conservative case for a more restricted welfare state, and the neoliberal case for abolishing the welfare state altogether. He then lists four challenges facing European welfare states: affordability; competition from labour markets not burdened with income taxation to fund welfare states; new social risks, such as increasingly insecure employment; and ageing. Page 71 offers a good discussion of the differential effects of universal and means-tested benefits.

Gamble’s final chapter argues that the status quo is not an option, and so asks what changes are required if the welfare state is to survive. The first requirement is a deeper understanding of the welfare state’s role in capitalism’s success. This leads us away from the question ‘Can the welfare state survive?’ and towards asking whether ‘capitalism can survive if welfare states are destroyed’ (p. 104). When it comes to specific policy prescription, at the top of the list is a non-means-tested income for every citizen. Both an unconditional Citizen’s Income and a Participation Income get a mention (although without a discussion of the administrative complexity of the latter); Negative Income Tax, Tax Credits ( – whether real ones or the UK Government’s variety the author doesn’t say), and minimum and living wages, are all described as steps towards a Citizen’s or Participation Income; and capital grants are mentioned as a variant. Beneficial effects that would follow the implementation of a Citizen’s Income are listed as increasing economic activity, more fulfilling employment, social cohesion, and lower inequality.

Building a political coalition around the idea of basic income would help end the resentment of those in work contributing to support those who are not able to work or cannot find jobs. Payment of a basic income to everyone would price workers into many more jobs which at present do not pay enough for people to live on. (p. 109)

In a more volatile employment market, state education and healthcare will remain important, and Gamble lists alongside these areas of state involvement regulation of the employment market, regulation of financial markets, regulation of housing markets, and regulation of companies. All of these are measures designed to increase welfare. A further requirement is a reduction in inequality, because higher inequality means that the wealthiest are more likely to abdicate both from paying for collective provision and from benefiting from it. Another requirement is the construction of welfare states in countries currently generating migration. And that’s where the book ends, rather abruptly. ‘Further reading’ is offered, but no bibliography or index.

The significance of this book is not that it advocates a Citizen’s Income – there are plenty of books that do that: but that it finds a Citizen’s Income to be the crucial mechanism for ensuring the survival of welfare states. Gamble makes a persuasive case, and we hope that this book will be much discussed.