Social policy as social vaccine


  • Jalil Safaei University of Northern British Columbia


Background: The social and economic woes that have inflicted many countries around the world are testimony to the inadequacy of current institutional makeup of societies where individualism and market forces by and large have taken the leading role in directing societies’ choices and resources. Problems of inequities in health and wealth, the widening gaps between the rich and the poor, employment insecurities, the growing social exclusion of the marginalized, and the looming environmental concerns are acute as ever. At the same time, the progressive social forces and the counter-balancing capacity of governments are being undermined by the prevailing neo-liberal forces. This sobering state of affairs can only lead to more problems and a growing frustration on the part of those who seek alternatives to the status quo, which have actually produced better results in certain countries. Objective: This study takes the position that the involvement of democratic collective institutions (e.g., local organizations and governments at all levels) in setting societal priorities and directing resources towards achieving those priorities would avoid or mitigate many of the socioeconomic problems facing us today. It aims to show that comprehensive social policy could prevent the emergence of such problems and contain the problems that remain, effectively working as a social vaccine. Methods: The study uses macroeconomic panel data and socioeconomic indicators from OECD countries to empirically examine the relationships between indicators of social wellbeing on the one hand, and measures of social policy on the other, while controlling for relevant macroeconomic covariates. Results: The empirical results indicate that better population health outcomes are consistently associated with stronger social policies, including social spending on health and non-health services. Also, they show lower poverty rate is associated with higher social spending. Lower crime rate is also associated with higher social spending, but it is strongly country-specific. Conclusion: Although improving social wellbeing and social protection are morally justified in their own right, the evidence presented in this study suggests that even a purely rational view concerned with the societal costs and benefits of public policy should find social policy an effective tool or vaccine against population ill-health, poverty, and crime.

Author Biography

Jalil Safaei, University of Northern British Columbia

Department of Economics Associate Professor






Original Research