III National versus Global Inequalities

Global Social Policy in the Context of Global Inequality

Alexandra Kaasch

This chapter concerns the attention given to matters of inequality by global social policy actors and discusses how their ideas and mechanisms may—potentially—affect inequalities. This section introduces the concept of global social policy and demonstrates how inequality is addressed in different dimensions of that concept.

Global social policy has two dimensions (Deacon 2007; Deacon et al. 1997). The first consists of prescriptions, ideas and discourses by global social policy actors in regard to national social policies. Functioning as knowledge providers, global social policy actors generate prescriptions, ideas and discourses. The literature on knowledge networks (Stone and Maxwell 2005), epistemic communities (Haas 1992) and policy ideas and discourses in global social policy has shown how global knowledge is developed, shared and disseminated. This process is particularly relevant for models about national social policies disseminated by global policy actors (Deacon 2007;

A. Kaasch (*)

Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2016

M. Wulfgramm et al. (eds.), Welfare State Transformations and Inequality in OECD Countries, Transformations of the State,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-51184-3_11

Kaasch 2015). The second dimension of global social policy is that there are ‘truly’ (or supranational) global social policies made up of the so-called three Rs: redistribution, regulation, rights. A number of scholars have taken up and the three Rs and applied them to different cases and social policy fields (for example, Koivusalo 2014; Yeates 2014; Fargion and Mayer 2015). In response to the increasing awareness that natural resources are limited and to the constraints posed by class, gender and ethnicity where human relationships are concerned, Deacon (2014) considers the need to add another two Rs, namely, resource consciousness and relational structures. At the same time, development aid, global targets, global funds or global taxation mechanisms may all affect inequalities of different kinds in the potential realization of global social redistribution, regulation and rights.

Inequality as such has emerged as an important topic within global social policy discourses. The inclusion of an ‘inequality goal’ (namely, Sustainable Development Goal 10 (SDG10): ‘Reduce inequality within and among countries’) in the post-2015 UN development agenda is only the latest expression of this emphasis. Social policies that have an impact on the extent and patterns of inequalities within national societies are primarily set up and reformed at the national policy level; global attention to the issue of inequality implies that global social policy has also developed ideas and mechanisms with a potential impact on inequalities. Inequality defined on a global scale may refer to the differences between countries or the differences between people, and as such it generates global responses of various kinds.

Global social policy is less about institution building, change or reform and more about changing ideas and discourses (Deacon 2007; Kaasch 2015) and the dynamic actor relationship (global social governance) (Kaasch and Martens 2015). Global social policy emerges in the form of policy ideas on how to understand and address inequality within national policy-making contexts. As far as ideas matter, global social policy may have an impact on social policy reform at the national level, which in turn affects social policy at other levels. Perhaps the only global actors with a direct impact on social policy reform at the national level are international financial institutions who put conditionalities on loans and credits for borrowing countries.

It is important to understand global social policy when addressing questions of inequality at any level. The expansion of global social policy ideas or knowledge does not just derive from a growing global interest in the topic; it is driven by an increasing interconnectedness of societies as ever more non-citizens need to be cared for in many countries, as families are spread over several countries in order to make a living, as employees and workers in one place work under the labour jurisdiction of another and so on. Connected social problems and needs of affected people are growing not only in scale but also in global and national public attention. The literature on world-regional and global social policy has provided evidence for the multiple forms, actors, structures and fields of global (or transnational) social policies that seek to respond to these problems (Kaasch and Martens 2015; Kaasch and Stubbs 2014; Deacon et al. 1997, 2010; Deacon 2007; Yeates 2014).

The understanding of and measures taken to tackle inequality are influenced by the knowledge and ideas provided by international organizations and other global social policy actors. However, global social policy also has an important normative dimension. We need a moral justification for addressing inequality as an issue of social concern that requires justice and redistribution at the global level. This chapter engages with the following: (1) the possibilities of placing social justice and redistributive claims on a global scale; (2) the way global actors make inequality a global concern; and (3) the identification of redistributive structures and mechanisms seeking to impact inequalities.

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