Is There a Conflict Between Growth and Welfarism? The Significance of the Sri Lanka Debate


Development Economics at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown (Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland). His latest publications include the edited volume Nutrition and Poverty, a publication in the WIDER Studies in Development Economics series. His current research interests include growth and poverty in South Asia and the relationship between income distribution and growth in East Asia.


This article seeks to derive some general lessons regarding the relationship between growth and welfarism by undertaking a reassessment of Sri Lanka's long experience with interventions in social spheres. While Sri Lanka has been hailed by many for pursuing the welfarist strategy with apparently spectacular results, several critics have recently suggested that she would have been better off by diverting resources away from welfare interventions towards investment for growth. They have argued that the interventions were not terribly effective anyway, and further that welfarism involved a conflict with growth which eventually undermined the very sustainability of welfarist strategy. This article contests these criticisms, and argues in its turn that the Sri Lankan experience offers a lesson not in the conflict but in the complementarity between growth and welfarism.