This introductory chapter briefly outlines the historical development of the welfare state and then provides an overview of the several dimensions of the employment problem, focusing on the pattern of unemployment and employment rates across affluent OECD countries for various demographic groups. It outlines the “OECD-IMF orthodoxy,” the widely accepted view that the main source of employment problems in affluent countries is benefit generosity and labor market regulation. The chapter compares some of the main indicators of labor market institutions and social benefits that are commonly blamed for poor employment performance and considers the justification for them on equity and efficiency grounds.
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