Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Reorganization the Danish Welfare State: 1982-93; a Decade of Conservative Rule

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Reorganization the Danish Welfare State: 1982-93; a Decade of Conservative Rule

Article excerpt

WHEN A CONSERVATIVE COALITION came to power in Denmark in 1982, similar governments were already in place in England and the United States. While the extremism of Thatcher and Reagan would never have stood a chance in the middle-of-the-road political culture in Denmark, the impotence of the Social Democratic Party during the preceding economic and political crisis had created opportune conditions for Danish conservatives to roll back the Danish welfare state in order to give more room for private initiative. From 1982 until 1993, three consecutive conservative governments fostered ideological and substantive changes in the Danish welfarstate;(1) but on the whole, such changes did not amount to a counter-revolution. We will substantiate this claim by analyzing conservative policies in three areas: economic policies, social policies, and the public sector. We conclude with a discussion of current trends and potential future developments in the Danish welfare state.

I

The modern welfare state is sometimes associated with a high level of public social expenditure, more often a combination of state-run social welfare programs and extensive state intervention in the economy. Although exponents of the "welfare society thesis" (Rose 1986) argue that state, economy, and civil society are equally important sources of social welfare, we conceptualize the modern welfare state as a social configuration in which the state has extensive social responsibilities, the economy is Fordist and high-growth, civil society is integrative, and--perhaps most characteristic-the state apparatus maintains central organizing roles in both the economy and civil society.

The overall goal of the modern welfare state has been to unite economic prosperity with redistributive social justice. Implementation of this goal has involved profound reorganizations of intrasocietal relations in the state, the economy, and civil society. Changes in economic relations were already underway at the beginning of this century, when several western democracies proposed ambitious plans to nationalize major industries and banks. However, these plans were discarded in most countries in favor of Keynesian macro-economic policies during the economic depression of the 1930s. The main cause of the depression was that capitalist mass production was not matched by an adequate level of mass consumption. Keynesians aimed to stimulate economic growth by strengthening national competitiveness through wage and currency adjustments, as well as making full use of the productive apparatus via demand-management policies (Mishra 1984, 17). But if Keynesian macro-economics was expected to create a smooth-running economy by alternate applications of accelerator and brakes, the Fordist compromise was to have been its motor, especially after World War II. In the Fordist compromise, workers accepted the introduction of new means of mass production in exchange for increases in real wages; the assumption was that workers could then purchase standardized consumer goods which they had produced on assembly lines (Boyer 1990, 16).(2) Eventually, the relation between state and civil society in most western countries fell within a Beveridgean welfare model,(3) which generalized Fordist norms of mass consumption and--via extensive political struggle and social compromise-augmented voluntary charity associations' private insurance schemes with public welfare systems based upon collective solidarity (Einhorn and Logue 1989, 131-3, 140-3).

The founders of the Scandinavian welfare state model were definitely inspired by Henry Ford, but they anticipated John M. Keynes and William Beveridge (Andersson and Mjoset 1987, 227-43; Einhorn and Logue 1989, 137; R. Andersen 1984, 27-33). While Fordism was introduced by way of imitation, the Swedish economist, Ernset Wigforss, advocated demand-management years before Keynes, and the Danish politician, Karl K. Steincke, advocated a publicly financed social security system some years before the Beveridge Report was released. …

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