Social status – patterns and options


In the few public debates about the model of society we might adopt at the moment of return to some normality, the positioning of the main political currents to the constitutional provision stipulating that Romania is a social state is completely absent (Article 1, paragraph 3). Most interlocutors associate the phrase “social state” with the socialist orientation or with the assisting state, with no relation to the economy, the labor market or the ways of charging/taxing.
In essence, the social state refers to how society understands to address the issue of social benefits to their own citizens. The most known and influential study on the various forms of social state belongs to Danish sociologist Gøsta Esping- Andersen, who, in 1990, published The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. The main idea of the study is the discovery of three major categories of social states, corresponding to some contemporary economic models and the comparisons from the perspective of the individual’s relationship in different levels / socio-economic positions with the need to work. Therefore, is made the distinction between liberal, conservative and social-democratic models. The three ideological models have a certain correspondence in the geographical grouping of some states, liberalism being associated with the Anglo-Saxon world, conservatism with continental Europe, and social- democracy with the Scandinavian area.
The two criteria applied to the three models are relevant from the perspective of state involvement in the social safety of citizens and the perceived results of society. “The need for a job “expresses the capacity of the social construction to sustain the individual who is in difficulty due to some of the most diverse reasons (work-incapacity, age, unemployment and so on). If the labor market is the only option for a living then any work is accepted, no matter how bad is paid, means that “the need for a job” is big. Instead, if the state would have built a solid and diversified insurance system, in order to make possible a dignified life even when there is no job available, the need for a job is low. The second criterion, “stratification”, in social sciences it is a settlement of certain parts/factions of the society formed by individuals according to certain criteria with one or more common socially expressible characteristics. Therefore, we could talk about social classes (workers, capital holders), social environments (liberal, social-democratic or Catholic, orthodox) and others. By combining these factions it results social layers, which, overlapped, can build the structure of the society or, with a hierarchical connotation, the social pyramid as an image of society.
From this article perspective, it is interesting that the state, through its dominant ideology, manages to support the chosen model, allocating available resources to vertical or horizontal areas of made up of social layers stratification.
In liberal social states, “the market” is the concept around which revolves economic life, as well as a good part of social life. Social rights and social benefits are relatively poorly developed in relation to a hypothetical average achievable for the benefits analyzed in social states. In other words, liberal social states, by assuming the minimal role of the state, involve relatively little support for when the individual is in difficulty. The individual is responsible for his life and the level of protection he allows. The state only provides the last net rescue, which is why individuals feel a very increased need for a job. The financing of social benefits is done through taxes, and the contributions by which it is acquired individual rights are little met. In a state with no or limited contributions, proportionate benefits are not prevailing, but those with a single share or with a few classes thresholds. The state does little to distinguish between professions or income earned by citizens for the provision of social benefits. Because this kind of services only provides minimal services-oriented exclusively to avoiding extreme poverty – individuals, during prosperous periods, turn to accumulations in the private area (pension funds, medical insurance, etc.). This type of state does not aim at equalizing conditions regarding the services offered to population (education, health, pensions) because, through the way it works in the social benefits area, it contributes to the formation of multiple social layers and to the accentuated stratification of them. The type of liberal approach of the social state can be found in the US, Britain, Australia, and others.
The conservative social state, sometimes referred to as the corporate social state (notion which describes a model of society where an important role it is played by the negotiation process between various social groups, such as employers and workers) is the state-runner of the state built on guilds, with a strong identity and negotiation power. German legislation on regards to civil servants with the privileges they contain is one of the best examples in this respect. The same principle of guild’s identity and the building of one’s own support system for members in difficulty or retirement is also found in other professional areas: lawyers, notaries, doctors, pharmacists and a lot of other trades considered liberal. The individual who becomes a member of those professional groups, not an easy process, it is also automatically secured in the associated social protection structures. For employees who are not part of these guilds the mandatory system of contributions is working for them, the system managed by the state. This type of social protection mainly works in the area of funds pensions, but there are states that “personalize” other contributions, such as those for unemployment (Italy, France).
At the same time, even inside compulsory insurances, which do not distinguish between professional categories, can be identified conservative principle, because the social benefits funding is largely made through contributions, and benefits depend on past contributions, which depend also on earnings. Social benefits preserve” the status prior to the intervention moment of the difficult situation in which the individual is.
Funding through contributions is limited by the contribution ceilings, both lower (income under a certain threshold do not require mandatory social contributions), and higher (over a certain threshold level the contribution does not increase), a situation considered by many to be unfair. Another characteristic is the lack of a specific approach in regards to gender differentiation, meaning that the infrastructure for baby raising and caring is somewhat modest, which generates high opportunity costs for mothers. They must often choose between building a career and raising one or more children. The need for a job is moderate, the individual not being in major difficulty in his absence. Unemployment is a temporary situation and, most of the time, due to the system that aims to conserve the previous state, even if it is not comfortable it is bearable by the individual. The stratification, in the context of conservative social status, is relatively significant and it is manifested in several areas of interest: professionally, incomes, gender and so on. Variations of this model are found in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, and so on.
The social state in the social-democratic approach finances most of the social benefits by charging taxes and not by contributions. At the same time, the revenues obtained from wages are somewhat uniform, the differences being relatively small. Therefore, the taxes are a lot higher than in countries which have adopted the other models. On the other hand, the services to the population are an important component of social policy. The state assists the individual in cases of temporary/permanent incapacity for work, and the benefit received compensates the lack of a job. Therefore, the infrastructure for raising, caring and educating the child is performing and it is accessible to all citizens. This approach allows the employed women share to be higher than in other systems, and the equality of women chance in terms of building a career to be somewhat more pronounced.
Also, the state (social – democrat) is one larger employer, the public sector can play a moderator role in the labor market. Comprehensive social services and uniform money transfers generate a low need for a job and a weakly highlighted stratification. Unlike the other two models, the level of benefits is similarly – in the high area – for people from different categories and incomes.
A distinctive feature is the existence of universal public services, which are, accessible regardless of whether the beneficiary pays taxes or not. The model works successfully in the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Denmark, Norway. Even though the presented models do not have a faithful representation in any country – the model being, by definition, a simplified representation of reality – it is obvious that there is a little probability the random combinations of disparate elements that belong to the presented models work. For example, contributing (the conservative model) could not support a social protection system accessible to all (the Scandinavian model). Also, looking at the necessary prerequisites for adopting the respective models seems hard to believe that an underdeveloped eco – statistic economy could support a social protection system as the Scandinavian model because the very high costs assume that the economy be performing and the employees have very good salaries.
In the case of Romania, after we will have decided what kind of economy we want to have and we will embrace the appropriate social state model, an important decision could be the shift from the reactive paradigm in the field of social benefits to a paradigm preventive type. This means that knowing that every person has a clear temporal evolution (we are born, we grow, we activate in the labor market, we lose working capacity, we disappear), it can be designed solutions that during our active lifetime the social benefits be in a small measure.
I’m referring here to the medical and educational infrastructure for children – who being healthier and more educated will strike less on social protection systems – at correlating the economy model with the type of education required and providing the premises for economic development, adopting a model of preventive approach in the health field, motivating the job seeker to re-enter the economic circuit, keeping the individuals in the workforce until their ability to work is presumed lost (or at least diminished), at the predictability of a pension that allows a decent living. Until then … we are condemned to bare very high costs for mediocre results.