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  • Author or Editor: Young Jun Choi x
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This research aims to analyse recent pension reforms in South Korea and Taiwan, newly emerging welfare states in East Asia, using new institutional approaches and to test their explanatory power. This article introduces a theoretical review of new institutionalism and accordingly explains recent pension reforms in the two countries. In spite of their similar politico-institutional factors, the two countries have adopted highly different types of pension schemes and pension politics. I argue that new institutionalism has limitations in fully accounting for these differences and suggest a complementary explanation of business structures and influences

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Researchers argue that social investment policies contribute not only to equal opportunity and human capital development, but also to the sustainability of welfare states. In that respect, these policies are regarded as the new vanguard of the welfare state (Morel et al, 2012). Yet, in the west, many criticise the role of social investment policies, as they tend to place too much focus on the (re)commodification of labour and are unable to cope with increasing inequality. In fact, scholars suspect social investment policies create a Matthew effect (Bonoli et al, 2017). However, many commentators note that East Asian welfare regimes do not need social investment policies to enhance human capital, as these countries are well-known for highly commodified labour and high rankings in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

However, these commentators seem to largely neglect the social outcomes of education policies in East Asian countries. Behind the scenes of their remarkable educational achievements, these countries seem to suffer from decreasing social mobility. For example, in South Korea (hereafter Korea), once praised for its active upward social mobility, the media has frequently referred to the country’s increasing social inequality and reduced social mobility using the terms ‘gold spoon’ and ‘dirt spoon’. Unlike decreasing social mobility, overall education expenditure in Korea is 8 per cent of GDP, and public expenditure has increased from 3 per cent in 2000 to more than 5 per cent in 2015 (World Bank, 2018). This could mean that the education policy and expenditure has not been able to reverse the labour market dualisation and has failed to secure an equitable outcome.

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International Lessons and Policy Implications

Social investment policies have enjoyed prominence during recent welfare reforms across the OECD world, and yet there is insufficient long-term strategy for their success.

Reviewing labour market, family and education policies, this edited collection analyses the emergence of social investment policies in both Europe and East Asia. Adopting a life course perspective and examining both public and private investments, this book addresses key contemporary policy issues including care, learning, work, social mobility and inequalities.

Providing original observations, this seminal text explores the roads and barriers towards effective social investment policies, derives practical social policy implications and highlights important lessons for future policymaking.

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An increasing number of policy learning studies have provided practical suggestions for the direction of welfare developments and reforms in East Asia. However, these have been carried out without a solid theoretical basis. This article aims to analyse the issues of existing policy learning research and explore the connecting point between welfare regime research and policy learning, specifically taking the Korean case as an example. The article will argue that welfare regime research can be a useful vehicle for making policy learning studies more effective and feasible by identifying key contexts, locating a policy within a welfare regime, and reducing possible policy options.

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Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) world, social investment policies are expanding, which Hemerijck (2015) describes as a ‘quiet paradigm revolution’. Nordic countries are widely considered the pioneers in social investment policies – with Sweden having already embarked on progressive policies during the post-war era and thus presenting the longest track record of remarkable social investments (Morel et al, 2012). Much attention has been paid to Sweden’s ambitious, active labour market policies, which are aimed at upskilling workers, and the country’s employment-oriented family policies (most notably childcare provisions, but also parental leave schemes helping with work–family reconciliation), which promote mothers’ participation in the labour market. In addition to its extensive childcare provisions, the country’s comprehensive education and healthcare systems have earned Sweden recognition as a ‘social service state’ (Huber and Stephens, 2001).

While Nordic countries remain the frontrunners, with the greatest financial commitment to social investment policies (Kuitto, 2016), we observe that latecomers from not only Continental Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world, but also East Asia, have made considerable efforts to catch up with the Northern European pioneers. The rise of social investments, especially the expansion of employment-oriented family policy (Lewis et al, 2008; Ferragina and Seeleib-Kaiser, 2015), presents an important dimension of the recent transformation of advanced welfare capitalism, which, despite the prominence of retrenchment, cannot be reduced to welfare state regress. For instance, Germany, which has a long legacy of promoting traditional families, made considerable efforts to expand its childcare provisions (including childcare for those under three years of age), in addition to introducing an earnings-related parental leave scheme that largely resembles the Swedish leave policy.

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