Problem pressure and social policy innovation: Lessons from nineteenth-century Germany

2019-10-15T10:47:29Z (GMT) by Alexander Horn Anthony Kevins
In studying how to best understand social program introduction, political scientists have built up a laundry list of contributory factors. We suggest, however, that “objective” problem pressure has been incorrectly neglected by many scholars in recent decades—and the well-known case of Germany’s nineteenth-century introduction of social insurance legislation provides a clear illustration of this point. In explaining the origins and design of German social insurance, the interplay of three factors is key: first, exceptionally high problem pressure, connected to both labor market- and state-building processes; second, a fragile institutional context dominated by Prussia; and third, the party political constellation. In making this argument, we draw on “open functional reasoning” and extract implications from the case study to further refine the underlying theory. Specifically, we find that goal-oriented action may both be more common and more prone to compromise than the theory suggests. As such, we not only present an argument for considering the potential impact of problem pressure, but also lay out and refine an approach to doing so. In contrasting this approach to the problematic functionalism that initially inclined many scholars to neglect of problem pressure, we hope to help rehabilitate the concept—and in the process strengthen the explanatory power of research in sociology and political science.

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