Corporatism is a political ideology which advocates the organization of society by corporate groups, such as agricultural, labour, military, scientific, or guild associations, on the basis of their common interests. The term is derived from the Latin corpus, or “human body”. The hypothesis that society will reach a peak of harmonious functioning when each of its divisions efficiently performs its designated function, such as a body’s organs individually contributing its general health and functionality, lies at the center of corporatist theory.
Corporatist ideas have been expressed since ancient Greek and Roman societies, with integration into Catholic social teaching and Christian democratic political parties. They have been paired by various advocates and implemented in various societies with a wide variety of political systems, including authoritarianism, absolutism, fascism, liberalism and socialism.
Corporatism may also refer to economic tripartism involving negotiations between labour and business interest groups and the government to establish economic policy. This is sometimes also referred to as neo-corporatism or social democratic corporatism.
During the post-World War II reconstruction period in Europe, corporatism was favoured by Christian democrats (often under the influence of Catholic social teaching), national conservatives and social democrats in opposition to liberal capitalism. This type of corporatism became unfashionable but revived again in the 1960s and 1970s as “neo-corporatism” in response to the new economic threat of recession-inflation.
Neo-corporatism favoured economic tripartism, which involved strong labour unions, employers’ associations and governments that cooperated as “social partners” to negotiate and manage a national economy. Social corporatist systems instituted in Europe after World War II include the ordoliberal system of the social market economy in Germany, the social partnership in Ireland, the polder model in the Netherlands (although arguably the polder model already was present at the end of World War I, it was not until after World War II that a social service system gained foothold there), the concertation system in Italy, the Rhine model in Switzerland and the Benelux countries and the Nordic model in Scandinavia.
Attempts in the United States to create neo-corporatist capital-labor arrangements were unsuccessfully advocated by Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis in the 1980s. As secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, Robert Reich promoted neo-corporatist reforms.