The conciliation of economic growth – with its demanding ‘efficiency’ imperatives – and social justice – with its equally demanding call for ‘equality’ – was one of the most significant aspirations of the twentieth century. The creation of the welfare state (and, more specifically, social insurance) has turned this aspiration into a largely successful institutional reality. Yet, today, the welfare state is the object of heated controversy in all of the advanced economies. The ‘conciliatory’ capacity of social policy has been put in serious question, especially in the light of the so-called ‘globalisation’ process. More and more frequently, efficiency and equality, growth and redistribution, competitiveness and solidarity are referred to as polar opposites that can only thrive at each other’s expense. There is, therefore, a risk that the new millennium may have opened under the shadow of a resurrected ‘big trade-off’,1 offering only two possible coherent value-combinations and thus virtually only one viable institutional scenario, if functional priorities (‘the pie first’) are to be respected.