Efficiency and Welfare under Capitalism: Denmark vs. the United States; a Short Comparison

By Jorgensen, Andreas | Monthly Review, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Efficiency and Welfare under Capitalism: Denmark vs. the United States; a Short Comparison


Jorgensen, Andreas, Monthly Review


This article was sent to us at Monthly Review by Andreas Jorgensen weeks before his sudden demise. Our friend Jacques Hersh of Aalborg University provided this farewell tribute to this respected scholar and activist:

The death of Andreas Jorgensen, in September 1996, is a great loss for the Danish Left. From his youth, Andreas was involved in politics. Educated in Paris during the 1950s where he acquired a great deal of his political background, Andreas throughout his life remained a dedicated socialist and anti-imperialist. From his early commitment as a member of the Danish Communist Party (until developments in the Soviet Union made him leave the Party) he retained his original engagement with the cause of socialism. In the 1960s, he founded two leftist influential magazines: Dialog and Politisk Revy. He also played an important role in the establishment of first the Socialist People's Party and then the Left Socialist Party.

His academic origins are as an historian. After a number of years as curator of the royal archives, he worked for the establishment of the important East-West Institute at the research University of South Jutland which he led until very recently.

His many travels in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union made him one of the most knowledgeable persons on Soviet affairs. He also had great insight into Danish society and international political economy in general. Deeply concerned with the breakup of the Soviet-type societies, he considered of a general de-industrialization of these countries.

On the personal level, he was a walking encyclopedia, an excellent speaker and writer, and a reliable friend for an entire generation of Danish socialists.

We now all know how since the 1970s the so-called compromise between capital and labor of the post-war years has been canceled. For that reason our Danish Social Democratic Welfare State has come under constant pressure from capital and from our bourgeois political parties, which are of course assisted ideologically by the neoliberal, monetarist, discourse pouting out of the Anglo-Saxon world.

Naturally, the main targets of the critics are, as everywhere, the public deficit, the public debt, the purportedly high social costs, unemployment (ten percent of the insured), and consequently taxation, claimed to be the worst in the world. The goals of the critics are focused on the public provision of health care to the elderly, but also on further deregulations and liberalizations, especially in the labor market, with calls for lower minimum wages and correspondingly lower unemployment insurance payments.

The main political problem for these critics is that the majority of Danes consistently appears to want it both ways. Of course a majority will vote for lower taxes, but at the same time another majority does not want to give up our present social arrangements. Therefore a majority initially voted down Danish participation in the Maastricht treaty, correctly and widely perceived as an instrument of capital, much to the surprise of most politicians and the media. This was a setback to the process of constructing the European Union, but in the end membership was accepted by a narrow margin in a second referendum. The price of this acceptance was permitting Denmark not to join the monetary - and monetarist - union (which to date we still reject), even though Denmark with yet smaller Luxembourg are the only countries now able to meet the needlessly strong monetary criteria of Maastricht as to public debt, public deficit, and inflation, in spite of all talk of Danish debt and deficit!

So ahead of us are constant political struggles to preserve the Welfare State. As if our own bourgeois parties were not enough, five Nobel laureates of Chicago just told us and other continental Europeans that in order to remain competitive and fight unemployment we will have to adjust to the U.S. model. Economists from the OECD regularly declare us "extravagant," and lately Bill Clinton told his colleagues at the G7 summit that the only way to secure employment and to obtain constant economic growth is to imitate the economic policy of the United States, especially as to labor market policy. …

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