IntroductionThis paper critically examines the debate on the relationship between "globalization", social politics and social policy. Globalization, by some accounts, represents a paradigmatic shift in the dynamics of welfare state development. Global capital and international institutions possess an unprecedented amount of political power and are instrumental in eroding national policy autonomy and shaping, even determining, the content of national social policies. The prospects for welfare states and for social and economic justice are said to be bleak, and a restricted range of strategically possible policy options, the retrenchment, residualization and marketization of welfare states and the lowering of social standards are forecast.
Is Global Capital against National States?Globalization is a highly contested term whose frequent usage has obscured a lack of consensus with regard to what it entails, explanations of how it operates and the direction(s) in which it is heading (Gordon 1987; Mittelman 1996; Amin 1997). It is often used inconsistently, at times to describe trends, at other times to explain them.
It also contains normative overtones, being at once "a set of beliefs about how the world is and how it should be developing" (Wilding 1997: 411). In fact, it could be argued that even to ask whether "globalization" corresponds with a social reality at all, let alone analyse its implications for social policy, is possibly to participate in sustaining a myth. As Wilding has argued, "it may … not matter very much whether anything is actually happening or not, so long as key people believe it is happening or can convince other people that it is happening" (1997: 411). Despite these reservations, it is important to engage with "globalization" in order to comprehend and challenge the way it has been ideologically invoked to shape the political parameters of what is both socially and economically possible and desirable.