The Swedish Model: The Scandinavian and especially the Swedish Welfare System

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Since then it has also tried to tweak welfare spending. On May 31st the government voted to limit paid parental leave for immigrants: previously, refugees could claim the full amount of paid leave days per child under the age of eight. Now they can only do so if the child is under one year old. For big families the benefits will be limited further.

These tweaks, however, do not tackle the biggest problem Sweden faces in integrating new arrivals: its rigid labour market. Many refugees do not have the skills or connections to enter the workforce. Sweden has one of the largest gaps in employment between native and foreign-born workers. This damages the welfare state not only because fewer foreign-born workers pay taxes, but also because some Swedes, like the cynical cashier in Malmo, resent their new neighbours and lose trust in the state.

If Sweden is to remain exceptional—for its high living standards and generous attitude to people fleeing barrel bombs—far bigger changes are needed. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today. Media Audio edition Economist Films Podcasts. New to The Economist? Sign up now Activate your digital subscription Manage your subscription Renew your subscription.

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Blogs up icon. Current edition. Audio edition. Economist Films. The Economist apps. More up icon. The Economist explains Explaining the world, daily. Norway and Denmark were somewhat less zealous than Sweden, although guiding behaviour through social policies was prominent in these countries, too. It is notable that Sweden, where social engineering had proceeded the furthest, also became a pioneer in multicultural liberalism: Immigrants could choose to retain their culture and their private sphere undisturbed. How this has turned out in practice is a recurring topic of debate in all three countries, but Sweden was definitely the ideological trendsetter during the early phase of Nordic integration-policy history.

In the early s, when the new immigration was starting to be felt more markedly in Denmark and Norway, Sweden had already had multicultural immigration for several years and consequently possessed experience from which the other countries could benefit. Integration ideology was divided into three components, equality, freedom of choice and cooperation; through freedom of choice, it achieved the characteristic of exception for a distinctive group, the immigrants.

Freedom of choice constituted a concession to those who were so different that they could not be expected to adapt to the universal solutions, and this would unavoidably emphasise their position as outsiders. In earlier times, receiving countries could wait for things to settle down. Nor do they possess the political legitimacy to pressure anyone too strongly to become like the majority overnight.

The integration policy approach consequently became a compromise between equality and pluralism: free choice culturally combined with full access to social citizenship. The logic of immigration policy in welfare states.

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Scandinavia represents a particular type of welfare state, one characterized by institutionalised social rights, universal access, generous benefits, a high degree of public involvement, and comparatively high levels of redistribution, and important in this context, it is by and large tax based. Income security has been fundamental, in the form of social assistance and as social insurance.

This system, designed to constitute a basic safety net for all citizens from cradle to grave, has been remarkably generous—and thereby costly. The basic idea of the welfare state is economic redistribution to diminish social inequality, and a high degree of social and economic equality is considered necessary for the creation of social cohesion and stability. This implies that integration and equality are linked. Equal treatment is a key element in the system and legal residency is the only criterion for accessing the basic income-security system.

Even newcomers are entitled from day one to benefit from the universal goods of the welfare state, provided they have a legal status. First, controlling inflow into a country, the first gateway to the territory, has been seen as a prerequisite for maintaining the specificities of the system. The generous welfare model, which embraces everyone but which can be undermined by excessive burdens, needs selection and delimitation of potential new members from elsewhere. This logic has been reemphasised along with the expansion of rights in the country.

The more rights, the more caution. And caution has been manifested both in the form of blunt border control , increasingly via differentiation through categories. The juxtaposition of access control and extension of rights creates the basic tension between generous welfare structures and immigration; the welfare state is to be universal, but only within its marked confines. Second, the emphasis on equality, state management and welfare rights has had a logical corollary in the integration policy.

If this policy framework is to be maintained, new, legally accepted inhabitants must be made a part of it. Good welfare states do not tolerate substantial numbers of persons or groups that fall by the wayside, disturb the regulated world of work, and burden social budgets. This reflects a basic recognition that society cannot function smoothly if a large section of the population is marginalized and socially excluded. Besides, organized labour has played a central part in politics and has, to a larger extent than elsewhere, contributed to a regulated labour market.

This has had specific consequences for advanced welfare states, where an orderly labour regime is one of the basic preconditions for the operation and maintenance of the system. The labour unions has opposed any generation of a reserve army of cheap labour that might be inclined to undermine achieved standards in working life. Consequently, in addition to the liberal humanitarian principles, there are important systemic considerations behind the Scandinavian integration policies.

Governing immigration.

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The three countries actively curtailed labour immigration in the early s, and the immigrant categories who were allowed entry turned out to be most costly for the welfare state, because they came for humanitarian reasons and were not demand-driven. Immigration in the region developed into a specific field of governance, more so in Sweden and Norway than in Denmark.

When people arrived and established themselves legally, the principle of equal treatment called for the same economic instruments as those applied to the majority population, but the social and cultural differences necessitated more-targeted action in many fields and the policies of freedom of choice in the cultural realm hindered the governments in actively promoting Scandinavian ways of life.

But how was this profound split pursued in practice in countries where nation-building and welfare-stately formation were so tightly intertwined? How could one exclude or ignore significant new groups of inhabitants from processes that had been seen as essential for the legitimisation of the comprehensive, paternalistic and costly model? When the new immigrants started coming in larger numbers, the states Denmark and Norway had little experience handling such a phenomenon, so it was reasonable to approach the newcomers with familiar and presumably efficient means.

Including people through equal treatment, social rights and if necessary, targeted policymaking had become the standard tools of welfare governance. On the nation side, the familiar means were not part of any deliberation; they were not consciously mobilized. However, we have been left very little documentation on this. In tune with the general confidence in governance, the state obviously believed that immigration could lend itself to regulation.

By the beginning of the s, new ideologies had already made their impact on Scandinavian politics: As in most Western European countries, a grand wave of political radicalisation swept over society and affected most corners of politics.

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Most relevant was the eradication of traditional thinking in relation to minorities. The importance of ethnic roots, authentic culture, and self-determination constituted the core of the new philosophy. The integration ideology that grew out of this climate was developed at an early stage, particularly in Sweden.

Recognition versus redistribution. Recognition relates to eradicating cultural and symbolic injustice through measures which grant recognition and respect to invisible or discredited practices, groups and identities. Since the s, the three Scandinavian states have wanted to apply both dimensions in tandem, although in slightly different ways and with different emphasis.

Low labour-market participation, low income, poor housing, and long-term dependency on public transfers are significantly more pronounced in non-Western immigrant groups than among nationals. This has spurred a debate over the effectiveness of the measures applied to achieve redistribution and the limitation of extending rights to newcomers when aiming for equal citizenship.

In other words, if the authorities place greater emphasis on the right to be different than on socio-economic equality and if members of minorities take them at their word and remain in their cultural enclaves, then recognition policy can in practice hinder socio-economic equality. This is the quintessence of the multicultural dilemma, and it is the relation which to the greatest extent, has led to the backlash against multiculturally inspired policies over the past 10 to 20 years: Rights to be different in majorities have been conceived as an excuse among newcomers for not participating in productive work, hence they have increased the need for redistribution through welfare transfers.

This, too, has spurred animosity in the native population, challenging the inclusiveness of welfare arrangements towards new members from abroad. In Scandinavia, this development has gone furthest in Denmark, shortest in Sweden. Gary Freeman was in many ways before his time when, in a much cited article, he posed a fundamental contradiction between inclusive welfare policies and comprehensive international migration.


His main argument was that immigration tends to erode the normative consensus on which generous welfare systems depend. Kuttner suggests that the well-to-do, believing that they would be better off with fewer social benefits and lower taxes, will consequently move for privatisation. The tension reflected in these two arguments has gradually come to the fore in Scandinavia, although to different degrees and in different ways.

The issue is highly controversial in all three countries, and so far, there are few signs of waning support for the welfare model as such. On the other hand, the governments are fumbling to find the right means to pursue nation-building in a modern diverse setting. In this matter, the three Scandinavian countries have followed distinct and quite different paths on the ideological and rhetorical side, whereas, I will argue, the de facto nation-building through welfare-stately instruments has been intensified in similar manners throughout the region.

Nation-building governance: which instruments?

States have a limited number of policy options to deal with this complicated and nebulous challenge. Since the s, naturalization policies have been revitalized as one of the instruments in this field, which is located in the intersection between the cultural nationhood and socio-political fields rights to vote and the final full range of social citizenship rights.

Citizenship law can in many ways be seen as a national presentation of self; what it takes to become naturalized indirectly indicates what it means to be a member of the national community.