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Lessons From the North
Apr 21, 2006
Fewer debates over economics would be needed if the world spent more time examining what actually works and what does not. Almost everywhere, debate has raged about how to combine market forces and social security. The left calls for an expansion of social protection; the right says that doing so would undermine economic growth and widen fiscal deficits.
But the debate can be moved forward by examining the successful economies of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. While no regional experience is directly transferable, the Nordic countries have successfully combined social welfare with high income levels, solid economic growth, and macroeconomic stability. They have also achieved high standards of governance.
To be sure, there are also differences among the Nordic states, with social welfare spending the highest in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, and a bit lower in Finland and Iceland. Nevertheless, whereas the taxes at the national level in the United States are equal to around 20% of GNP, in the Nordic countries the ratio is more than 30%.
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Writing for PS since 1995
334 Commentaries
Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University, is Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has served as adviser to three UN Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General António Guterres. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, Building the New American EconomyA New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism, and, most recently, The Ages of Globalization.
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