Fragmented Welfare States: Federal Institutions and the Development of Social Policy



Despite political scientists' growing appreciation of the ways in which institutions influence political processes, the “new institutionalism” has so far had a limited impact on the comparative study of welfare state development. This article discusses some broad issues concerning institutions and public policy by exploring the implications of one set of institutions — those associated with federalism — for the politics of social policy. Federal institutions encourage three distinctive dynamics: they influence the policy preferences, strategies, and influence of social actors; they create important new institutional actors (the constituent units of the federation); and they generate predictable policymaking dilemmas associated with shared decision-making. Comparisons between social policy development in Canada and the United States are used to demonstrate that while federalism clearly matters, how it matters will depend on the characteristics of a particular federal system and the ways in which federal institutions interact with other important variables.