Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Nordic Model Never Existed, but Does It Have a Future?

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Nordic Model Never Existed, but Does It Have a Future?

Article excerpt

IF THE STRICT CRITERIA of social research are applied, it is impossible to say that a Nordic Model has ever existed. However, the Nordic model has and does exist as a pan-nationalistic idea, and in the context of a regional identity movement, it may gain strength in the future.

In Scandinavia, the Nordic Model is considered to be a samfunnsmodell, that is, a model of a peculiar type of social organization, generated by a peculiar pattern of social development. In the early days of postwar social science, the focus was on convergence. The optimistic American approach, "modernization theory," claimed that social development inevitably led towards the so-called "American way of life." On the other side of the Cold War cleavage, Eastern Marxists claimed that all social development brought mankind closer to a communist utopia. But as most social scientists know, things are somewhat more complicated than either of these models suggests. There is no homogeneous process of modernization, rather, social interaction can create a multitude of institutional patterns. The invention of institutions is very seldom by design. In most cases, it occurs as social conflicts are solved through compromise and as complex constellations of social interaction are reduced to less complex ones.

Institutions can be transferred or emulated. This may happen voluntarily, as when Japanese delegations went to the West in the late nineteenth century, choosing various European and American models on which to organize their police force, postal service, etc. Institutions may also be imposed on people as, for example, the imposition of patterns within the British Commonwealth's Westminister administrative system. Finally, institutions may be transferred by a mixture of emulation and gentle pressure as was arguably the case when Marshall Plan aid had the effect of promoting American lifestyles in postwar Western Europe.

Certainly, in these instances, one can speak of institutional models related to specific areas of society. It should also be possible to define a constellation of institutions as a national model. It is often claimed that during the postwar period, a Nordic Model successfully institutionalized the goals of the welfare state: full employment, an egalitarian income distribution, and general social citizenship through universal pension schemes and provision of social services. Among Western European mixed economies, the Nordic countries developed a particular variant combining concerns for social equity (both between classes and sexes) with private capitalism. This model was marked by strong domestic consensus, high levels of organization (of labor, capital, and agriculture), low levels of social conflict, and fewer social problems than in comparable capitalist democracies.(1)

In general then, the Nordic Model refers to a peculiar version of the mixed economy, one in which political management of economic matters reflects a strong commitment to the welfare state. So defined, the model must respond both to developments in world politics and markets and to internal patterns of social change which alter power relations between social groups. Only if these two sets of forces--one external, one internal--allow a number of mechanisms to operate permanently over a span of time, do we have a model functioning throughout this specific period. Specific institutions may of course endure across several periods, but a national model as here defined is a constellation of institutions operating at various levels--at a minimum the levels of state, economy, and social structure.

The Nordic area, however, consists of not one, but five states. We must therefore ask whether the Nordic Model should be understood as the aggregate of five similar but distinct models, or whether it is primarily affected by mechanisms of regional integration. The argument for treating it as an aggregate of distinct national models encounters difficulties if we find supposedly Nordic patterns in a non-Nordic setting: If, for instance, indicators of social democratic strength show that Austria is more similar to Norway and Sweden than Denmark, then it seems misleading to talk about a Nordic Model. …

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