Broken Promises. The Political Origins of Socioeconomic Inequality in Portugal, 1960-2010

Broken Promises. The Political Origins of Socioeconomic Inequality in Portugal, 1960-2010

In 2008, two international studies put our country in a paradoxical situation. In a comparative study on the constitutional commitment to economic and social rights (ESR) in 68 countries (Ben-Bassat e Dahan, 2008), Portugal assumes a singular position: Portugal has the highest degree of constitutional commitment of social rights of all the countries analyzed (2.45, on a scale from 0 to 3). Also in 2008, OECD published a study on socioeconomic inequalities, which once again reiterated the structural and resilient character of this problem in this country. Portugal is the European country with the largest gap between rich and poor and, between OECD countries only Mexico and Turkey show more negative results (OECD, 2008). This is hardly news. But it confronts us with the simultaneously structural and unusual nature of this paradox at the international level. Why is the country with the highest degree of constitutional commitment to social rights one of the most unequal of Europe and the OECD? This is the question we would like to answer in this project.

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Rede: 
-
Keywords: 

Political institutions, Social citizenship, Interest groups, Social and economic rights

In 2008, two international studies put our country in a paradoxical situation. In a comparative study on the constitutional commitment to economic and social rights (ESR) in 68 countries (Ben-Bassat e Dahan, 2008), Portugal assumes a singular position: Portugal has the highest degree of constitutional commitment of social rights of all the countries analyzed (2.45, on a scale from 0 to 3). Also in 2008, OECD published a study on socioeconomic inequalities, which once again reiterated the structural and resilient character of this problem in this country. Portugal is the European country with the largest gap between rich and poor and, between OECD countries only Mexico and Turkey show more negative results (OECD, 2008). This is hardly news. But it confronts us with the simultaneously structural and unusual nature of this paradox at the international level. Why is the country with the highest degree of constitutional commitment to social rights one of the most unequal of Europe and the OECD? This is the question we would like to answer in this project.

 

Objectivos: 
Following T.H. Marshall’s classic argument linking civil citizenship with social welfare, we maintain that the universal provision of education, health, social security, and welfare benefits leads to the development of full citizenship: first social citizenship and, through it, political citizenship (Marshall, 1950). As civil rights protect the individual from arbitrary or discriminatory treatment, and as political rights assure that power is not confined to the hands of a few, social rights offset the vagaries of the free market and correct its inherent inequalities. When states respond to the basic needs of disadvantaged citizens by providing them with social welfare, and when they do so universally without stigmatizing those in need, they enable the less fortunate to acquire the minimum competence required so that they too participate – fully and with dignity – in their political communities as equals (García and Karakatanis, 2006). From this perspective, the fact that Portugal’s high degree of constitutional commitment to social rights has not been translated into a diminishing of socioeconomic inequality in the past few decades is an eminently political issue, and as such requires a political scientific analysis. At first sight, this could indicate that the constitutionalization of social rights in Portugal is what the literature designates as “cheap talk” – social rights would be, according to this hypothesis, irrelevant when the time comes to distribute public goods. But is this really so? The available data on state expenditure indicate that, since 1975, Portugal has not spent less than the average European countries in this regard. The answer must lie elsewhere. Our working hypothesis is that the politics of welfare policy-making in Portugal, partly as a result of the corporatist and particularist historical legacy, have been dominated by a broad coalition of interests, aptly described by OECD as a “welfare clientele” (OECD, 1985), denying both the universalistic nature of the welfare regime and the hypothesis of the “cheap talk”. Our political analysis of this “broad welfare clientele”, encompassing politicians, bureaucrats, interest groups, and voters, is conducted from three related angles. First, we conduct a historical institutionalist study of the politics behind social welfare policies since 1960 until the present. Our goal is to provide a historical description of the 50-year history of social and economic rights in Portugal. In addition, this will allow us to identify the path dependency effects operating in the Portuguese social welfare regime. Second, we analyze the politics of making the laws that implement social and economic rights. By tracing the political conflicts over the social functions of the state, we will show how procedures for representing interests have structured the welfare policy choices of this country. Third, this study of the politics of representation of interests will be complemented by a study of democratic representation. In concrete terms, we will analyze the political behaviour of this broad welfare clientele, including voting and other less formal types of political participation (e.g. manifestations, strikes, signing of signatures, contacting public officials, etc.). Our contention is that the negation of the Marshallian universalistic ideal of social citizenship in Portugal has given rise to a dual citizenship, in which the welfare clientele has the upper hand with a broader and more effective political repertoire than the rest of the population, especially the least advantaged. If this proves to be the case, we will have reasons to conclude that the promises of political equality that have founded our democratic regime in 1975 have not been kept.
Parceria: 
International networ
Mónica Brito Vieira
Pedro Ramos Pinto
Laura Valadez Martinez
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/04/2010
End Date: 
30/09/2013
Duração: 
36 meses
Closed