Can we draw a “realistic utopia” toward publicly reciprocal welfare state? –– A comparison of welfare programs between Japan and USA

Reiko Gotoh


In the development of the postwar welfare state, Japan saw the Hibakusha movement, which campaigned for the state compensation for atomic bomb survivors and also for the total abolishment of nuclear weapons. The state compensation is justified on the basis of responsibility of the state for the war. It has been based on essentially different logic from the public assistance provided for the needy persons in general. The Hibakusha movement became widely known and was recently nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace.

We can hardly say, however, that the meaning and implication of the Hibakusha movement was properly understood in the formation of welfare state in Japan. The postwar welfare state prides itself on the comprehensive menu and universal coverage (stipulated as “right to well-being” in constitution), which is supported by liberal values emphasizing individual independence and autonomy.

In reality, however, the so called comprehensiveness was limited to dealing with standard risks associated with and assumed in standard life-stages. The apparently universal system could only support those who had satisfied eligibility requirements. We cannot deny the possibility that some Hibakusha are campaigning for abolishing nuclear weapons while not receiving reasonable compensation for their own suffering. In contrast, the USA began developing its welfare system by offering targeted assistance for elders, persons with disabilities, single mothers and so on. It has not yet stipulated a universal “right to well-being” for its citizens or any corresponding duty of the state to provide public assistance in its constitution. Yet, many kinds of compensation schemes and assistant programs have been implemented with the support of citizens and non-profit organizations.

With these comparisons in mind, this paper reconsiders the role of the welfare state and provides an alternative conception of the welfare state, “capability-based public reciprocity,” by connecting economic philosophies of John Rawls and Amartya Sen.

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