New Geography: Norway Breaks with Social Democracy
Largely uncommented on in the US press, Europe’s long-standing social democratic tilt has changed. During recent years, almost all Western European nations have seen a dramatic fall in support for the traditional Social Democratic parties, which for so long have dominated the political landscapes. In response, the centre-left parties have morphed, moving towards greater emphasis on the benefits of free markets and individual responsibility. In several countries the former communist parties now claim that they fill the role of traditional Social Democrats. A new breed of modernized centre-left parties is likely to replace several centre‑right governments during coming years. The third consecutive loss for the German Social Democrats illustrates the continuing difficulties for Europe’s labor movements to gather the strong support that they previously almost took for granted.
Until recently oil-rich Norway has remained unique, as the only
nation where Social Democrats have resisted change to highly generous
welfare benefits. In 1999 the former Swedish social democratic minister
of business, Björn Rosengren, famously called Norway “the last Soviet
state” due to the lack of willingness to adopt market policies. But now
even Norway is shifting with the recent election of a centre‑right
government formed by Erna Solberg. Making the transition from a
full-scale welfare state to a system which consistently rewards work
more than public handouts will be a difficult one for Norway.
Hopefully, the newly elected government will draw inspiration from the
neighbor to the east.
Politicians in Norway for long admired the Swedish social system, seeing their larger neighbor as a pioneer of Social Democratic policies.
Recently however, particularly the left has begun to emphasize the uniqueness of the Norwegian Welfare Model rather than the Scandinavian Welfare Model. Swedish policies have even been used in the recent election as deterrence by the left. It is easy to see why. The current centre-right government in Sweden, elected in 2006 and re‑elected in 2010, has focused on a broad reform agenda. The workfare policies introduced include: somewhat less generous benefits, tax reductions aimed particularly at those with lower incomes, liberalizations of the temporary employment contracts and a gate-keeping mechanism for receiving sick and disability benefits. ...
I always think of articles like these everytime I hear American conservatives complain we are becoming more like Sweden, or liberals highlighting how we need to adopt socialism based on how happy the Scandinavians are. Both sides may want to look a little closer.