This weeks’s Newsweek has an article on the merits of the Scandinavian model, with additional pieces on Sweden and Denmark, allowing readers to vote on whether or not “the Swedish socio-economic model is in trouble.” Newsweek thinks it is a rather sexy model, but regular readers of this website know that we do not think the Scandinavian model (this one, not these ones) is pretty.
After reading our analysis, one of our readers, a university professor, provided an explanation for why the Scandinavian model has been in decline since the 1970s. He wrote:
The Scandinavian type of welfare state is more vulnerable to the deterioration of the element of Christian commitment than other regimes, because the latter constituted a more significant part of it. The origin of the Northern welfare state does not lie in a particular political philosophy, but derives from the nationalisation of the churches and all their welfare services in the sixteenth century.
In the Orthodox countries (Russia) the churches had already been integrated into the civil service, but had no welfare services. In England the church was nationalised, but remained totally independent. In the protestant principalities of Germany the welfare services of the churches were taken over by the local authorities (as in France following the French Revolution). What typifies Denmark and Sweden is that from the sixteenth century onwards the churches there continued to provide all their welfare services as part of the royal administration within the royal budget.
Any student of the events surrounding the integration of Finland into the Russian Empire between the time of the Peace of Tilsit (1807, when France allowed Russia to annex Finland from Sweden) and independence (1917), continually encounters legal issues concerning welfare benefits. Did Russia have to take over the Finnish pension obligations from Sweden? Did the Russians have to pay the pensions of the Finns in St. Petersburg and was there no risk that the Russians would start demanding pensions too? Who was to help pay for the failed harvests in the north? What if a Finn who had had a career in St. Petersburg wanted to go to a retirement home in his birthplace? Would the Russians have to pay for that? And would Russian workers not want to have the same welfare services as the Scandinavian churches provided and give the Orthodox church an active role in social reform.
This Christian component, with active state churces, was very strong in the Northern countries until three decades ago. The decline of the Scandinavian model is the result of the decline of the active component of this social model. Those who wish to undermine this Christian component will simply have to accept the weakening of the welfare services.
If this argument is correct, perhaps Ireland and the US are economically in better shape than Europe because they have remained more Christian?