Looking for a Balanced Treatment of Successive Generations: What Can Social Policy Learn from Perspectives on Sustainable Development?

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:45 AM
Room: F203
Distributed Paper
Mi Ah SCHOYEN , NOVA Norwegian Social Research, Oslo, Norway
Rune HALVORSEN , NOVA Norwegian Social Research, Oslo, Norway
This paper argues that social policy scholars have good reasons to engage with the literature on sustainable development when analysing the challenges of how to make polices and welfare states sustainable. While many analysts have discussed the need to ensure the sustainability of welfare states and concerns for future generations, they rarely spell out the conditions for achieving welfare sustainability or provide an adequate theory of what such sustainability involves. Attempting to address these shortcomings, the paper asks what the scholarship on social policy can learn from perspectives on sustainable development.

In a European context, current debates on the need to create sustainable welfare states and how to promote sustainable development both raise difficult issues of intergenerational fairness and governance problems including tensions between policymaking and democratic legitimacy. The mantra is: ‘for a better future, citizens must make sacrifices today!’ Thus, the proposed paper is premised on the view that these areas intersect in important ways. However, they also differ, since generally questions about the welfare state are treated as problems of social/economic policy while debates about sustainable development put concerns for the environment at the centre. Hence, linking the rich literature on sustainable development and the notion of sustainable welfare states, promises to bring new conceptual and empirical insights into the debate about welfare state futures.

The paper first introduces the notion of sustainable development. Next, we discuss how we can enrich the conceptualisation of welfare sustainability by taking on-board a broader sustainable development perspective. In addition, we ask how we might transform this improved definition into operational indicators which enable cross-national comparisons. Third, in view of the framework developed we tentatively compare a set of European countries. In conclusion we address the implications our framework has for the question of intergenerational fairness, and we highlight avenues for future research.