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00.4 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

When Labour and Capital Collude: The Varieties of Welfare Capitalism and Early Retirement in Europe, Japan and the USA

2004 – Bernharnd Ebbinghaus

Abstract

The institutionalisation of early retirement has become a universal feature of postwar industrial economies, though there are significant cross-national variations. This paper studies the impact of different types of welfare regimes, production systems and labour relations on early exit from work. After an analysis of the main trends, the paper discusses the costs and benefits of early retirement for the various actors — labour, capital and the state — at different levels. The paper outlines both the "pull” and "push” factors of early exit. It first compares the distinct welfare state regimes and private occupational pensions in their impact on early retirement. Then it looks at the labour-shedding strategies inherent to particular employment regimes, production systems and financial governance structures. Finally, the impact of particular industrial relations systems, and especially the role of unions is discussed. The paper finds intricate "institutional complementarities” between particular welfare states, production regimes and industrial relations systems, and these structure the incentives under which actors make decisions on work and retirement. The paper argues that the "collusion” between capital, labour and the state in pursuing early retirement is not merely following a labour-shedding strategy to ease mass unemployment, but also caused by the need for economic restructuration, the downsizing pressures from financial markets, the maintenance of peaceful labour relations, and the consequences of a seniority employment system.

 
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