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Sweden & Norway are only socially progressive due to their small & homogenous populations?

Source: monika1607

 

I can’t comment too much on social policies but can say that there certainly are economic policies that would work regardless of the relatively small size and homogeneous populations of Scandinavian countries. Oddly enough, their tax system is surprisingly non-progressive, as Canadian economist Stephen Gordon notes. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive as well, because a large reason for their comparative lack of income inequality is simply because their tax system is pretty much right out of an economics textbook and on its face seems regressive, not progressive.

schnuffs

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They counter the regressive taxation with highly progressive welfare programs. Tax and welfare are two vitally important tools to look at.

More regressive taxes tend to be more efficient at raising revenue. Welfare programs are much better at addressing inequality than taxes.

Problems arise when people look at only one issue. For example, inequality stats in the US are almost universally reported pre-tax and pre-welfare. This paints a massively different picture of the state of the country than is actually the reality for individuals living and working in the country today.

ahuggingkissingfiend

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Sweden and Norway were much less progressive at the turn of the 20th century and their small population and homogeneity weren’t necessarily advantages in a more capitalistic neoliberal system. The workers and unions eventually took power and over a few decades created more equality, improved the economy, and tightened regulations to create the society you see today.

Whether it can be attributed to homogeneity is tough to say, but if you look at a country like Canada for example, which is much more progressive than the USA, it is a very multicultural society.

In terms of small population, Germany & France outspend Norway when it comes to the percentage of GDP allocated to social programs and they are the two most populous European countries (if you don’t count Russia).

It’s hard to say definitively, but to me, it seems like this is a talking point created for use by conservatives. When you’re dealing with economic theories and comparing them to real world examples that have small sample sizes and plenty of variables, I’m sure statistics and arguments could be made for both sides of the coin.

jw255

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The main reason there are welfare states in Scandinavia is because of the labour movements (The social democratic party and the union). So the real question is really, what made the labour movement so strong in Scandinavia?. This could obliviously be because they are homogeneous nations, though I highly doubt it. All the Scandinavian countries did actually suffer from very strong differentiation of urban/rural, dialects and geography.

Goat666

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To put it crudely, in Scandinavia you had a lot of independent farmers, who joined up with the labourers in demanding a more universalistic welfare state, while in continental, and esp. Anglo-Saxon countries, the farmers joined up more with the middle and upper classes, weakening the push of the labour movement for universalistic welfare state policies (and the redistribution needed to finance them).


Some additional background:

Scandinavia is pretty unique as a region that, more peripheral to the British and continental industrial revolution, knew a strong development of a class of independent farmers through a uniquely largely peaceful transition to modern agriculture (in other countries there was more conflict with the traditional landowners).

This relatively large group of independent farmers, plus the growing (in size and assertiveness) working class was powerful enough to engage in a relatively peaceful/democratic process of reforms towards the welfare state, a few decades before e.g. countries such as Belgium, where demands of the working class were largely resisted until after WOII.

The contrast with Belgium is informative. Here the farmers (esp. in the Northern, Flemish part) “joined up” with the (Flemish) capitalist class.

Leading members of the Catholic Party and Flemish bankers (e.g. Joris Helleputte, Frans Schollaert, etc.) shared a concern for the development of financial institutions in their region, and the risk that the large farming population would turn socialist (as happened in the previous decades in the Southern, more industrialized part of Belgium).

So the same group of people founded both the “Boerenbond” (“Peasants Union”) and the “Volksbank” (“Peoples Bank”) around 1890. These organisations provided credit and organised the small farmers population, and in a sense merged the (financial) interests of the peasants and the capitalist class in Belgium (at least in the Northern region).

Note that this is still true today! Not only is the Boerenbond a partner in the negotiations on social issues, dividing the traditional employers-vs-empoyees dynamic. Out of collaboration between the Boerenbond and the Volksbank grew theKBC, on of the major companies of Belgium and the second largest IIRC bank/insurer of the country. The Boerenbondand the Flemish banker families still form a shareholder-block that keeps tight control of of the holding.


Addendum: indirect ethnic diversity might play a role the evolution of the welfare state/progressive policies. E.g. one of the explanations of the weaker labour movement in the US (and the less progressive policies) is the issue of slavery/race.

But it must be stressed that this (at least) historically) is an indirect factor, working through the overall explanatory factor of class dynamics.

mhermans

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I doubt there’ll a clear-cut answer to this, but I’ll try to get the ball rolling.

It would be easier to deal with a specific example though because this is a pretty broad question. “Something socially progressive” could mean a lot of things… redistributive policies (welfare systems etc), socialist policies like public education or health care, or social policy like marriage equality. “Homogenous population” could also be interpreted several ways… are we talking strictly about ethnic/racial diversity, or also more general cultural diversity (which could be of the same race… for example should Quebec decrease Canada’s “homogeneity score”?), or even socio-economic diversity (class or income inequality)?

Here are some somewhat disorganized thoughts:

  • Canada springs to mind as an interesting counterexample to this argument, being both very diverse and fairly socially progressive. (Though ok it’s not as socially progressive as Scandinavia and it is still quite small in terms of population)

  • a counterexample in the opposite direction might be Japan or South Korea, which are both very ethnically/culturally homogeneous but also tend to have somewhat regressive attitudes in some ways… people sometimes use these countries to argue the exact opposite: that homogeneity allows a stronger sense of “tradition” and doesn’t create the same push for “progressive” policies (as a hypothetical example if 99% of your population is the same religion, who’s going to fight for religious tolerance or a secularized state?)

  • here is a map of immigrant population by country. Again, that’s not necessarily the best measure of homogeneity but it’s one consideration. As you can see the rates for Scandinavia aren’t so different from the US and the rest of Europe.

  • here is a map of GINI coefficient by country (a measurement of income inequality). You can see that the US does have markedly higher income inequality than Scandinavia. But this also demonstrates that income inequality and racial diversity don’t necessarily correlate. Which is why we’d really need to define which one we mean in order to really answer this question.

  • The main difficulty with this question I think will be separating cause and effect. Unless you want to define homogeneity strictly on racial terms, it’s going to be hard to figure out causality. Class inequality and the strength of the welfare state are the obvious example. Was it easier to implement a generous welfare state because the population was economically homogeneous? Or is the population economically homogeneous because of the generous welfare state? This obviously doesn’t apply only to economic inequality either… the reason that there is still a distinct black culture in America after 200+ years is obviously that regressive social policies in the form of institutionalized racism kept blacks and whites deliberately separated.

sothisb

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No. For instance, take the Netherlands. It has legalised:

  • Euthanasia

  • Same-sex marriage (first to re-legalise in 2001)

  • Soft-drugs

  • Prostitution

  • Abortion

Yet it is ethnically diverse, with less than 80% of the population being ethnic NL. It also has the two most international cities in the world, Amsterdam and Zaandam, which both vote leftist and/or progressive.

Homosexuality was illegal here until 1971, abortion until 1981, etc. The country was more conservative and homogenous at the time.

There are other diverse countries that are more progressive than average (like the US) and tons of ethnically homogenous countries that are deeply retarded.

anarchistica

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What do you think?

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