Esping-Anderson – Three worlds of Welfare Capitalism

A missing link

Although a central moment of Esping-Anderson’s analysis is the commodification-decommodification theses it lacks to reach a core of the welfare state analysis, namely the production of public goods, i.e. «services of general interest».

In orienting the analysis on public goods, the commodification-decommodification question can be specified. In principal, the «general interest» does not exist. Instead, we are concerned with another formulation of the «state as ideal collective capitalist». In other words, the supposed general interest is the interest in the maintenance of the functioning of the capitalist system.

Applied to the argument developed by Esping-Anderson we can define decommodification as a specific form of general interest. In this context, decommodification is as well a specific form of the production of social services and vice versa.

Taken in this sense, the availability of social services as services of general interest has to be considered mainly in terms of the resources actually used for the production of these public goods. Consequently,

*  social insurance

*  taxes

*  private-for-profit organisations and

*  private-not-for-profit (charitable) organisations

are in this sense different forms of financing and provision of respective services and thus different forms and degrees of the public.

As there is no general interest and as there are at the same time different forms and degrees of the public, fighting against each other it is important to determine the different actors. There are two dimensions to such a determination, namely

a)       actors with regard to the emergence of the welfare state

b)       actors with regard to its maintenance.


Emergence of the Welfare State

class struggles



Maintenance of the Welfare State

class struggles

interest groups in negotiation


social entrepreneurs