chapter  9
25 Pages

Ideational leadership and structural policy change: Comparing German welfare state reforms


Patterns of policy stability and change have engaged analysts in political studies and policy sciences alike for several decades. In particular, analysts are interested in improving knowledge on what constitutes policy change and how ‘major’ change can be distinguished from ‘minor’ change or policy adjustments (see the section on the ‘nature of policy change’ in the Introduction to this volume). A second important question is what determines policy change – and major change in particular – and which mechanisms link explanatory factors to policy outcomes (see the section on ‘why and how policy change occurs’ in the Introduction to this volume). This contribution addresses both of these themes while taking issue with a puzzle in the area of comparative

This chapter aims to explain significant policy change in the context of highly change-resistant welfare states. Dominant institutional theories of welfare state politics predict that welfare states are extremely stable constructs. Despite such claims, the German welfare state, being the prototype of such stability, has undergone a number of structural reforms in recent years. I argue that ideational leadership (IL) is able to account for such reforms in status-quo oriented welfare states by changing preferences of actors who formerly opposed far-reaching reforms and breaking through institutional lock-in mechanisms. Evidence from a comparative case study of German welfare state reforms shows that policy-makers indeed displayed ideational leadership, while they also made concessions to overcome politicalinstitutional obstacles. The findings suggest that the politics of transforming welfare states differs from the politics of retrenching welfare states. Furthermore, the concepts introduced enhance current theorizing on policy change.