Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Buttressing Social Welfare State

Buttressing Social Welfare State

Dev Raj Dahal

What is the welfare state for? Obviously, the justification of the vision of the welfare state lies in the promotion of harmonious development of society that guarantees just public order, liberty, justice and dignity of people. The social welfare state is conducive to the expansion of democratic space in society for the social, economic and political actors in their search for cooperative grasp of understanding. It provides the ground for citizens to obey its authority for its relative autonomy from the capital and dominant interest groups of society who are inclined to re-feudalise the public sphere. But if the state is overloaded with huge responsibilities beyond its institutional and material means, it teeters between protest and paralysis.

In a welfare state, employment is the key to social wage, economic security, equal citizenship and dignity, not its own sprawl for political reasons of elite absorption and hoarding power and wealth at the upper echelons of society. Democracy breaks the barrier of hereditary privileges and statuses, establishes the common identity of leaders and citizens and hones civic culture rooted in public opinion and legitimacy. The nature of Nepali state is changing from patrimonial to extractive, constitutional welfare, welfare authoritarian and neo-liberal to socialist oriented now. Yet, the legacy of the end of ideology that has fused capitalism and socialism in the welfare state driven by a mixed economy is resurrected in the nation now.

Social solidarity
The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 aims to set up the synergy of public, private and cooperative sectors for socialist-oriented economy in the middle path. It, however, demands the social solidarity and social control of the market and an escape from the ferocity of statism, paternalistic planning and unfettered class-blind capitalism. Will Durant rightly says, “The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality.” It has also falsified the idea of the end of history. One can see the acceleration of history, culture, religion and nationalism all over the world caused by the erosion of ideological interpretation of the withering away of the state devoid of reality.

The welfare state, however, varies in many parts of the world on the basis of scope it provides to intermediary organisations, local government and civil society between it, partnership with the private sector, ownership of citizens in the development and their active roles. In Nepal, the swelling of enormous rights while only a few duties and opening the state to the free market meant the creation of a lean and efficient government. But in no way did it attain the objective of reducing its size or the proportion of tax it consumes and de-bureaucratise development so that the costs of public good are reduced to the minimum.

Exonerating the state from its underfed resources rescues citizens from the state of nature, fulfils their essential needs and makes the civility and agility of democracy exhilarating. Paradoxically, however, Nepali state’s eroding monopoly on power, declining economic indicators including tax base and growth of autonomous forces in society linked to global solidarity robbed off its writ and competency. It is hollowing the impersonal state for the governmentalisation of incumbent political parties plaguing the partisanisation of all public institutions and boom of politicians, bureaucracy and special interest groups forming a Gordian knot hard to disentangle and reform.

The creative destruction has augmented less allocative efficiency of the market than weakened the will of Nepali state and turned its polity’s checks and balance sclerotic unable to style legitimate public security, authority and order, perform regulatory, legal and political functions as per the order of the constitution, execute all rights of its citizens and fulfil many of its international duties. In this sense, rejuvenation of its power is vital to increase its outreach, build an interface of the state and citizens and beat the lingering afflictions. The predominant influence of interest groups has skewed the enforcement of distributive equality, uneven scale of freedom and equal opportunity for citizens.

Transformational leaders of Nepal have a crucial task to mark a shift from the nation’s as usual primal politics to credible means for building bridges and bonds across various class, gender and geographic divides, seek positive change of ordinary Nepalis’ life through cognitive, material, institutional and attitudinal adjustment and enable their participation in the diverse aspects of livelihood, employment, reconciliation and state building from the bottom-up. Foreign aid, remittance, tax, tourism and hydropower development should complement national and local efforts on the modernisation of the fiscal base of the Nepali state so that its rivals do not create counter sources of power, knowledge, expertise and institutions and make party politics a poodle of geopolitical broil.  

The critical challenge for Nepali leadership lies in fixing the government of law and enabling its ability to deliver effective services so that citizens have decent standards of living, faith in the spirit of constitutionalism and widen the meaning of their membership to the state which entitles them to their rights and duties. It requires a modern version of the autonomy and integrity of the public and private spheres so far destroyed by feudal culture of cronyism. The expansion of the government does not mean the creation of a welfare state if citizens are deprived of meritocratic and accountable regime feeble to spur the moral and material basis of freedom. 
Obviously, democracy consolidation in Nepal requires public-spirited leadership who does not defy the autonomy of citizens as free human beings, normatively inapt and ethically deficient to achieve constitutional goals. In a social welfare state, leaders are the representatives of citizens, educators of political values, bearers of national culture and owners of sound public policy shared by all. Nepali leaders are responsible to create a political system which can subdue chaos, coordinate hard and soft social capital, support the state-society coherence through political socialisation, health and appropriate policies and programmes and provide certain sense of civic virtues and habits essential for the promotion of freedom, equality and wellbeing.

Participatory resources -- practical knowledge, expertise, equipment, economy and infrastructures -- are necessary.  They affect how citizens breathe and stay alive, increase their voice and gift, reconcile links with the state, devise institutions of local self-governance, plan for long-term shared future based on justice across many spheres and adopt faultlessly rational and deliberative problem-solving techniques. The application of democratic principles by Nepali constitution such as popular sovereignty, social inclusion, proportional representation, human rights and social contract have challenged the classical notion of procedural or electoral democracy where it is defined as rule of majority over minority.

A respect of minority, poor, workers and peasants by the leadership and their stake on democracy can overcome politics of negation, make constitutionalism workable and political process stable, astute and serene. The public policies of Nepal, however, must be attuned to the directive principles and policies of the state so that the nation can overcome the present condition laden with adverse misery, inequality, deprivation, debt, dependency and low incoherence of facts and norms. Nepal requires a robust, inclusive green growth to finance constitutional rights, substantial social development, social security and cultural growth, a culture that cultivates dialogue, trust and understanding for contextual social learning without being prejudiced to the zeitgeist.

Contextual and institutional reforms can only work in conjunction with broad-based growth in the real economy -- in agricultural and industrial sectors, the willingness of the wealthy private sectors to demonstrate social solidarity and enable the development and democratic processes participatory where both sides have equal stake like in the Nordic countries. These are essential elements to build the social welfare state from below, help local communities to prioritise their roles in their own progress and create conversational means of expression across the diverse Nepali public aspiring for democratic autonomy. Only then adversarial relations among Nepali parties do not hamper the functioning of the constitution, parliament and the court. 

The decentralised, local formal and informal institutions of citizens and their entrepreneurship need to be reared up and organised into modern civic groups, social cooperatives, saving and credit institutions, consumers group, Youth and Mothers’ Groups for small-scale enterprises, community-based organisations, learning centres, dialogue platform, federations, social movements, etc. Some form of civic autonomy for them can level up and liberate the slumbering passion of Nepali society from hierarchical control, hopeless alienation, gender inequality and poverty and bring positive change in the rural and the urban power, wealth and communication structure.

Groups must have cooperative capacity to mobilise human and financial resources for collective ends so that they can surmount struggle to positive social innovation and encourage social and system integration. Retraining and educational opportunities for migrant Nepali workers can build trust and upscale the Nepali peasants and workers’ ability to compete in new job markets created by technological innovation, trade and finance and enable them to coordinate collective action at multi-level governance.

Social justice
Social welfare state cannot function if provision and production of public goods face dysfunction, bribery is rampant and civil society, media, justice, disciplining and security institutions are weakly institutionalised. In this context, democratic leadership in Nepal has to transform the informal society, economy and politics into a system of rule of law and improve the circle of empathy space. Social justice, the focus of social welfare state, is the key element of this transformation as it glues the multi-levels of societal hierarchy, removes structural injustice and builds the architecture of stable order through effective discipline, socialisation, civic education and cooperative action.

The priorities of Nepal are connectivity of the recovery and reinvestment, sustainable livelihoods, adaptation to climate change, infrastructural development especially in health, education, alternative energy, decentralised production, active labour market policy, gender equality, basic reform of financial sector and distributive measures of the welfare state to satisfy survival, well-being and enlightenment needs to oppose fatalism and determinism. 

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)