Normative Justification for the Welfare State

The welfare state is a, if not the, major institution of modern industrialized societies, which competences cover a large array of topics. When it comes to justify why the welfare state is doing this or that, diverse arguments are usually mobilized (equality, community, public interest, satisfaction of basic needs, etc.).

Political theorists for instance identified one of its key functions as one of redistribution. Welfare state’s role however exceeds pure redistribution by including the provision of goods and services (not limited to the traditional ‘public goods’), regulation of markets, guarantee of the conditions for a fair cooperation and risk-management. These various activities explain the importance of public institutions in the promotion of collective welfare and economic growth.

The workshop proposes to articulate the traditional justifications for the welfare state framed in terms of equality and justice, common in political theory, with other justifications, present in public policy and economic theory, which appeal to the principle of efficiency. This latter topic is essential for industrialized societies because it offers a deeper and more comprehensive look into the role of the state in the promotion of the collective welfare and also in the establishment of efficient mechanisms of cooperation. The purpose of the workshop is to overview the various reasons for supporting public institutions, the interaction between these different reasons and their joint coherence; and their relative strength in front of the main critiques of the welfare state.

Potential areas of interest (not exclusive though):

– The diverse theories for justifying the welfare state (e.g. egalitarian, communitarian, etc.)

– Welfare state as a risk-manager,

– Markets and the state: justifications of the public/private split, principles of regulation (e.g. externalities, collective actions problems, etc.),

– Public v. private insurance for health, unemployment benefits and pensions.

If you are interested to present during this workshop, please send to both of us an abstract of no more than 500 words (or a complete paper) with your complete name and institutional affiliation before May 30th. Please note that you will be kindly asked to provide a draft of your paper a couple of weeks before the event.


Karsten Klint Jensen (University of Copenhagen):

Xavier Landes (CESEM, University of Copenhagen):


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