Characteristics and Challenges of the Nordic Welfare State

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SAMPOL 120 Nordic Politics Home exam

Candidate number: 216432

Date: 5/11/2012

Number of words: 3134

Title of the assignment: Characteristics and challenges of the Nordic Welfare State

;: Introduction

In this essay I will first, try to discriminate some of characteristics as well as historical preconditions that combine to make the Nordic welfare model a topic of extensive literature defining it as a special case. Mainly, I will focus my analyses in three broad aspects shared by them: universalism, gender equality and consensus on political decision. It is important highlight that I will adopt two different terms to group these countries. By Scandinavian countries I mean Norway, Sweden and Denmark while the wider concept of „Nordic nations‟ includes all five countries Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. In a second moment, I will show how new external and internal pressures threatened the welfare state model and deviated the Nordic countries from their common path. As result, a convergence between them with other OECD countries occurred. However, changes were not significant enough to drive the model to an end, as it recovered in the late 1990s and regained some of its faded confidence.

The Nordic model Common definitions for the Nordic welfare state emphasize the extensive role of the state in redistributing resources, through both cash benefits and services. Broadly speaking, the Nordic welfare state seeks to equalize life chances, provide social justice and social security, and promote cohesion and stability, all within the framework of the market. (Alestato et al 2010; Kautto 2010) In contrast with the liberal regime model - adopted by countries such as the United States, Britain and Canada - the Nordic countries‟ redistribution of resources relies on universalistic

policies instead of means-test policies or targeted groups aimed at poverty alleviation. (EspingAndersen 1990) 1. Universalism By universalism one can understand social benefits that include all the population or a high degree of population coverage. Although the model is still structured according to categories or tests to legitimate needs, these tests cannot be considered selective due to the fact that a person‟s economic or social standing are not taking into account. Instead, the universal model gives priority to comprehensive policies and includes not just all citizens but all residents; thus, being more generous with immigrants; guest works; etc. There are a number of argument in favor of universalism. First, the concept is grounded in moral considerations: in order to avoid segregation and stigmatization since not just the needy or targeted groups receive benefits (Alestato et al 2010) - and came within a culture of pursuing social cohesion and equality. Others supportive arguments are pragmatic. Universal welfare policies would be more attractive for the middle and upper-class since they are equal included in state provisions, thus guaranteeing their interest on paying taxes. (Esping-Andersen 1990) Conservatives in the 1950‟s defended universal pensions advocating that it would be administrative cheaper and simpler. Finally, a wider provision would increase citizens‟ resources and therefore give them great autonomy. (Kildal and Kuhnle 2005) On the other hand, criticism came in concern of high public expenditures and consequently high taxes. Questions that in times of economic setbacks, globalization and demographic changes challenged the viability of this type of regime. One last reason, is the resulting dependency culture in a population used with a strong state-provider and the inefficiency of achieving social equality and priorities.

2. Gender equality In comparison with other OECD members, women participation in the labor market in Scandinavian countries is considerably high. The reasons behind this reality come also as a matter of universalism and yet work-oriented model. Instead of taxing families, the...
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