Early ruminations on the welfare state in Canada: Can they help us understand the policy paradigm of crisis?

Contributions to the political economy of the welfare state from Canadian vantage point (Panitch 1977) took a decidedly less abstract position than both the American and British contributions compiled during the late 60’s and 1970’s.  Canada neither possessed the large oligopolistic firm structure and military industrial complex of the US, nor the centralized structure of the British state; nor did, or would it ever posses the capacity for auto-centric growth resting or decaying on imperial access to global markets.  For all these reasons the more abstract and contending claims about the functional role of the state and its relationship to the dominant and subordinate classes, although informed by the abstract dynamics of capitalist accumulation and the necessary relationship between capital and labour to the liberal democratic state, could ultimately only be settled, Panitch argued, through empirical and historical investigation.  Making the crucial observations that Canada was never governed by a laissez faire state —if by that one understands a minimal state which pulls little direct weight in capitalist development— nor a particularly reform liberal state —if by that one understands an activist state which attempts to ameliorate the substantive inequality of capitalism— but rather, and above all, by a pragmatic state alongside a pragmatic capitalist class.  As Panitch put it: “Unlike so many of our political analysts, Canadian capitalists have been good at distinguishing between a large state with major accumulation functions and a socialist state” (p.16).

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