From Welfare World to Global Poverty


Gunnar Myrdal was one of the earliest and most vocal advocates of the need for international redistribution, or what he termed “welfare world”. As Myrdal himself pointed out the western welfare state was itself often a barrier to such redistribution internationally. Myrdal eventually came to see the western, and specifically swedish welfare state as a model for more generous flows of international aid, but this on primarily humanitarian grounds. The political lessons of the social democratic model which lay behind this evocation of international ethics thus fell away in order to make room for a more politically-realistic argument in the liberal (American) world Myrdal liked above all to address himself to. In so doing Myrdal, to some extent despite himself, came to represent the wider shift in international development ethics under way from the 1970s: away from questions of structural reform and economic redistribution and towards the minimalist yet universal guarantees of a basic minimum of subsistence, from welfare world to global poverty in other words.