Recently, David Sirota, in the Huffington Post, discussed the subtle differences between liberals and progressives. While any contribution to one of the key debates of our times is welcome, it seems to me that to focus on the differences between these two political attitudes is like wondering how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin, prolonging the timidity of the American left that has served us so poorly since McCarthy.
At a time when the entire world is reeling from the consequences of cowboy capitalism, when leaders from Putin to Wen Jibao, from Ahmedinejad to Chavez are determined to forge a new world economic order, can American intellectuals not at long last feel free to discuss the various forms of socialism that have existed for almost a century?
In an earlier article I promised to discuss the Scandinavian social democracies. Here is an overview that I found on the official site of Denmark:
The Welfare State as a Political Compromise
The Scandinavian welfare model acts within a controlled capitalist market economy in which inequalities in income distribution and the concentration of wealth and power are allowed less free play.
In political terms, there is in all the Scandinavian countries a parliamentary democracy with close relations between the organizations representing the interests of both employers and employees and the political system. The relaxed attitude of the population towards both the central government and the other public authorities is a fundamental characteristic of the political system.
Discussion of the organization and development of the welfare state also forms part of the political debate in the Scandinavian countries. To call the Scandinavian welfare model 'the Social Democratic model' – as is sometimes done – is, however, misleading.
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Generally speaking, all political parties in the Scandinavian countries have contributed to the development of the welfare state over the last 100 years. This applies to all the parties that have been in government without exception, and all the Scandinavian countries have had non-socialist governments or non-socialist participation in government for a large part of this time.
Thus, the welfare state does not represent a common Social Democratic ideology, but a national political compromise on how to organize and finance the social, health and educational benefits on which a political decision has been taken to provide for the population.
The Social Democratic parties have thus not invented the Scandinavian welfare state, but in comparison with other parties they have shown the greatest initiative. At the same time there has been far greater agreement on the development of the welfare state between the political wings in the Scandinavian countries than has been the case in other European countries.
The difference in points of view has been less, and the coincidence of interests greater. Consequently, a welfare system has been established which is more harmonious and in many areas more comprehensive than in most other countries in the world.
Future Developments of the Welfare State
The question is therefore whether the national compromise can be maintained in the future. Generally speaking, the changes and cuts which have been made in the welfare systems in the Scandinavian countries in recent years – and there are actually many – betoken an on- going adaptation of the systems to the present economic situation.
The task ahead is to educate the vast swathe of the American people who thrill to hear Senator McCain and Governor Palin tell them that it's better to create more wealth - never mind for whom - than to redistribute it. To point out that the redistribution doesn't go from them to the government and from there to people who don't work, but from the wealthy to them and to those who are unable to work.
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