Bar­ba­dos and the Nordic Model

Daily Nation (Barbados) - - Comment - By RALPH JEMMOTT

REX NETTLEFORD used to warn Caribbean aca­demics and pol­i­cy­mak­ers of bor­row­ing too much from for­eign mod­els. In the later years he was par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of those who bought whole­sale from the Marx­ist-lenin­ist play­book.

Un­til the 1960s, the decade of In­de­pen­dence, the Caribbean un­der colo­nial tute­lage was not par­tic­u­larly self-di­rect­ing. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that we have tended to look out­side for di­rec­tives and di­rec­tion. It was com­mon a few years ago to talk of im­i­tat­ing the Sin­ga­pore model. To­day there is talk about fol­low­ing the so-called Nordic model.

Mod­els of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic gov­er­nance are not eas­ily trans­fer­able from one polity to an­other. The mis­take among aca­demics is to think that these mod­els are tech­ni­cal mod­els, for­get­ting that there are essen­tially so­cio- cul­tural par­a­digms.

The cur­rency of the so-called Nordic Model re­lates to Mary Hin­son’s book The Nordic Model: Scan­di­navia Since 1945, pub­lished in 2008. It refers to, among other things, the univer­sal wel­fare sys­tem that emerged in Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Nor­way and Swe­den since World War II. This was not pe­cu­liar to Scan­di­navia.


The post-1945 pe­riod wit­nessed the as­cen­dancy of the lib­eral demo­cratic idea that statu­tory in­sti­tu­tion­alised wel­fare ser­vices should be es­tab­lished within the struc­tures of western cap­i­tal­ism. The con­tention was that con­trary to Marx­ist thought, rigid class struc­tures and the ex­ploita­tive na­ture of cap­i­tal­ism could be mod­i­fied and mol­li­fied.

To some ex­tent, it af­forded cap­i­tal­ism some de­gree of moral le­git­i­macy. When the Cle­ment Atleeled Labour gov­ern­ment came to power in Bri­tain July 1945, the pur­pose was to fash­ion the wel­fare state as out­lined in the Bev­eridge Re­port of De­cem­ber 1942. One corner­stone of Labour’s wel­fare pol­icy was the Bri­tish Na­tional Health Ser­vice Act of 1946.

The Nordic coun­tries car­ried the so­cial safety net pol­icy to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion and sus­tained it sys­tem­at­i­cally over time. The Bri­tish Labour Party suf­fered elec­toral re­ver­sals to the Con­ser­va­tives in 1951 and in the 1970s, cul­mi­nat­ing in Thatcherite con­ser­vatism.

The test of any kind of model is how it ac­tu­ally works. It is not sur­pris­ing that the Nordic model could be con­sid­ered an ob­ject for im­i­ta­tion. It ap­pears par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing to per­sons on the left of the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum for its rel­a­tive so­cial equal­ity, ev­i­dent eco­nomic pros­per­ity, so­cial sol­i­dar­ity, its qual­ity of life of­fer­ings and a per­ceived cli­mate of so­cial hap­pi­ness.

In an age when we are con­stantly re­minded of global dis­tresses, the Scan­di­na­vian states rank among the top ten on the World Hap­pi­ness Re­port for 2017, with Nor­way and Den­mark ranked at the very top. Ide­olo­gies, and the po­lit­i­cal mod­els they spawn, are not per­fect, hence they are al­ways sub­ject to con­tes­ta­tion. Even if the ide­olo­gies were the­o­ret­i­cally per­fect, they have to be im­ple­mented by flawed hu­man be­ings.


Crit­ics on the right of­ten ques­tion the sus­tain­abil­ity of the univer­sal wel­fare state model, its regime of high taxes and highly reg­u­lated so­cial en­gi­neer­ing. They com­plain of tax-and-spend lib­er­als given to pork bar­rel pol­i­tics.

It is the main­te­nance cost and sus­tain­abil­ity

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