Stein Ringen views the welfare state as a large-scale experiment in political reform. To ask if the welfare state works is to ask if political reform is possible at all. By its nature, the welfare state is reform on a grand scale, for it attempts to change the circumstances individuals and families live under without changing and disrupting society itself. But is it realistic to believe a population can get together, set goals and then try to meet these goals through collective actions, specifically public policies, without causing unintended consequences and destroying the state in the process? The welfare state attempts, idealistically, to redistribute welfare without reshaping the economic processes that cause inequities in the first place. Ringen considers how well redistribution has met the test in terms of political legitimacy, its intended effects on poverty and inequality, as well as its undesired and unintended effects on economic efficiency and the quality of private life. Ultimately, does the welfare state work? Further, is the welfare state a good thing?
In considering these questions, The Possibility of Politics should be of particular value to academics and advanced students interested in political theory, public economics, social administration, and political sociology.
Stein Ringen is professor of sociology and social policy at Oxford University and a Fellow of Green College. He teaches social and political theory and research methodology for graduates in social policy, sociology, politics, economic and social history and other subjects.
Drawing on Chinese and international sources, on extensive collaboration with Chinese scholars, and on the political science of state analysis, the author concludes that under the new leadership of Xi Jinping, the system of government has been transformed into a new regime radically harder and more ideological than the legacy of Deng Xiaoping. China is less strong economically and more dictatorial politically than the world has wanted to believe.
By analysing the leadership of Xi Jinping, the meaning of ‘socialist market economy’, corruption, the party-state apparatus, the reach of the party, the mechanisms of repression, taxation and public services, and state-society relations, the book broadens the field of China studies, as well as the fields of political economy, comparative politics, development, and welfare state studies.
‘A new interpretation of the Chinese party-state—shows the advantage that derives from a comparative theorist looking at the Chinese system.’
—Tony Saich, Harvard University
‘This is an excellent book which asks important questions about China’s future. In a lively and persuasive manner, the author vividly analyses key data in a comparative and theoretical manner. Far and away the best introduction to how the CCP dictatorship works.’
—Edward Friedman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
‘There is no lack of scholars and pundits abroad who tell us that dictatorship in China is for the greater good. In a timely and engagingly written book, Stein Ringen systematically demolishes all the components of this claim.’
—Frank Dikötter, University of Hong Kong
‘Stein Ringen shows how the Chinese state has used both fear and material inducements to build a “controlocracy” of a size and complexity unprecedented in world history. Perfect as a dictatorship, but brutal, destructive, and wasteful. The author’s encyclopedic understanding of his topic is based on a mastery of relevant scholarship and is delivered in clear, no-nonsense prose that bows to no one. Ideal as a textbook.’
—Perry Link, University of California, Riverside
‘China is a complex country, and there is a range of reasonable interpretations of its political system. Professor Ringen’s interpretation is different than my own, but China watchers need to engage with his thought-provoking and carefully argued assessment. If current trends of repression intensify, less pessimistic analysts will need to recognise that Ringen’s analysis may have been prescient.’
—Daniel A. Bell, Tsinghua University
‘Inspirational and trenchant. Stein Ringen’s book is a must-read to understand China’s politics, economy, ideology and social control, and its adaptability and challenges under the CCP’s rule, especially in the 21st century.’
—Teng Biao, Harvard Law School and New York University
‘Stein Ringen’s insights as a prominent political scientist enable a powerful examination of the Chinese state in a penetrating analysis that reaches strong conclusions which some will see as controversial. The book is scholarly, objective, and free from ideological partiality or insider bias. Whether one ultimately wishes to challenge or embrace his findings, the book should be read.’
—Lina Song, University of Nottingham
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The issues that concern him are ones that should concern us all. They include education, poverty, the social and economic roles of families, the lack of democracy in our economic lives, and the need to rejuvenate municipal democracy. Along the way, Ringen proposes policy solutions aimed at restoring democracy, such as universal vouchers for education, substituting the principle of individual insurance for social-welfare pensions, and rethinking how we measure poverty in rich and poor countries. He calls for the revival of local democracy, a democratically grounded global economy, and the protection of political democracy from the transgressions of economic power.
The way to protect democracy is not to cheer it, but to reform it. What Democracy Is For offers a bold defense of democratic ideals, grounded in real reforms.