The Nordic Model of Social
Democracy: sustainable and
Lecture, October 15, 2013
Nik. Brandal, Øivind Bratberg & Dag Einar Thorsen
Outline of the book
1. Introduction
2. The Birth of the Social Democratic Movement
3. Towards a Nordic Model (1916–1940)
4. Planning the Welfare State (1940–1970)
5. The Nordic Model in a Global Economy
6. The Welfare State: The Good Life or Dependency?
7. A Better and More Organized World
8. Economic Growth and Environmental Protection
9. The Sustainability of the Welfare State
10. Liberty, Empowerment, and Community
11. Concluding Essay: The Power of Politics
The Nordic model (as commonly understood)
• Strong trade unions; coordination and compromise
between the social partners through centralised
negotiations over wages and work conditions.
• A comprehensive welfare state dominated by universal
• Activist industrial policy.
• Also: high participation in the labour market, small wage
differences, gender equality etc.
Productivity and collective effort
• High participation in the labour market ensure revenue
for the state and limited benefits costs.
• Corporate profit geared towards reinvestment through
incentives in the taxation system.
• Small wage differentials enourage high-skilled and
competitive enterprise; enterprise unable to compete is
allowed to wither away.
• Thus: private and public sector are mutually dependent.
 kindergartens! Public transport! Effective administration!
 High levels of social and geographical mobility.
Security as encouragement, not roadblock for
People who feel secure dare to start an enterprise… That
is what creates business and employment... Because we
are good at sharing, we excel in creating as well. And
because we are good at creating, there is ever more to
share. This is social democracy in practice! This is the
Norwegian model.
- Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway 2005-
Freedom is the essential goal
The main task of socialism today is to prevent the
concentration of power in the hands of either
industrial management or the state bureaucracy
– in brief, to distribute responsibility and so to
enlarge the freedom of choice.
– Richard Crossman, 1952
Requirements and the sustainability issue
• Fight for equality should not equal a fight for conformity –
equal opportunities, individual freedom (social and
cultural obstacles to human growth). The welfare state is
an emancipation project!
• It is an open question to what extent and under what
circumstances the welfare state can be conducive to
equality defined in these terms.
• Peculiar combination of equality, self-help, and
community has provided the ideological foundations of
the Nordic model
Requirements and the sustainability issue (2)
• Individual liberty through state regulation – a paradox?
• Maternalistic view that everyone is obliged to contribute
to collective welfare provisions, and that no one is
allowed to put their own lives and well-being at risk.
• The argument against means-testing…does it work today?
• The case against basic income… does it work today?
Sustainability: the more specific problems
• Sweden: social services (unemployment benefit in
particular) closely linked to trade union strength.
• Norway: larger share of statutory rights.
• Particular problem in Norway: ever-increasing
• Shared by all three countries: challenges of
sustaining high employment and high
productivity to finance public welfare.
Sustainability (2)
• Threats to the sustainability of the Nordic model
relate to a range of areas – among them:
- Financial sustainability: can future welfare be
funded, in light of economic and demographic
change? Will the Nordic states remain sufficiently
- Moral sustainability: in a society characterised by
greater diversity – ethnic and social – can a sufficient
level of cohesion be maintained?
Community feeling and moral sustainability
• Social democracy grounded in vision of ever-expanding
community (from partial interests to society as a whole).
• Can community be sustained (and further expanded)
• Globalisation and new class divisions, but also
individualism, consumerism.
• Rise and fall of the twentieth-century welfare state – or
Exceptional… and social democratic?
• The argument of Nordic exceptionalism can easily be
• Collective effort has been aided by cultural preconditions,
but also cultivated by lengthy periods of social
democratic government.
• Historically: profound social conflict overcome; political
settlements in the 1930s helped the country onto a
pacific and productive track.
• An important part of the equation: cross-class ideas
embedded in politics and institutions.
Only Nordic? Or transferable?
• The Norwegian case has been aided by national and
social cohesion…
• …but the quintessential element: institutions for
collective decision making + continuous mobilisation from
• Welfare state as «institutionalised solidarity»
• Requires ability to create as well as willingness to share
How strong?
• How strong is the Nordic Model today?
• What have been the consequences of prolonged centreright governments in Sweden and Denmark?
• What will the consequences of the new
conservative/libertarian government in Norway be?
• «The good home does not know any privileged nor
neglected. No one benefits from advantages over the
others, the strong does not frown upon or exploit the
weak. In the good home, equality, compassion and
cooperation reign. Applied on the greater people’s or
citizens’ home this should mean the removal of all social
and economic barriers now dividing privileged from
neglected, rulers from ruled, exploiters from the
Per Albin Hansson, Prime Minister of Sweden 1932-1946.

The Nordic model