Bernhard Ebbinghaus
Revisiting the Double Movement: Social Protection versus Market Liberalism in Europe

29th International Conference of Europeanists, Reykjavik, June 27th to June 29th, 2023

Over the last decades Europe has faced several major economic crises in which the welfare state was providing social protection for those most affected but public spending also came under pressure by subsequent austerity policies. The paper revisits Karl Polanyi’s thesis of the “double movement” of the rise of market economies and asks whether the pendulum swings pro-market or pro-welfare in a cyclical way since the heydays of Keynesian welfare states. In the postwar economy, European welfare states had emerged as counter-movement against the vagaries of market-economies in an increasingly globalized world. Since the 1970s oil crises, however, the welfare state has been seen as in need of reform, while neoliberalism advanced pro-market changes that under-minded the strength of labour unions and set increasing fiscal limits on welfare states. More recently the Great Recession and Great Pandemic have led to a reconsideration of the need for social protection during a crisis but also the subsequent austerity pressures. The paper will analyse to which degree economic crises have led to an expansion of social protection and whether these have been followed by downward austerity thereafter. The analysis explores whether this cyclical pattern has been largely consistent or whether there are cross-national variations, reflecting different welfare state regimes, labour relations and political factors. The economic growth model and macro-economic contexts are also considered in respect to the pressure towards neoliberal austerity policies. Besides macro-indicators, the paper will review critical junctures in crises management to review the double movement thesis.