Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Does the Nordic Model Still Work?

Attended a panel discussion by the Ambassadors of Denmark, Norway and Sweden to Singapore on the Nordic model of growth, values and welfare. Moderated by Donald Low of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the discussions touched on the pressing socio-economic issues faced by each country.

How could the Nordic societies refine its welfare model in order to compete globally and still be socially coherent?

Denmark (H.E. Berit Basse) spoke about its economic growth outlook, and its green agenda and transition to becoming the world's first fossil-free country. Norway (H.E. Tormod Cappelen Endresen) shared its thoughts on the role of trust in society, the effects of falling oil prices on its economy and the value of trust in society. Sweden (H.E. Håkan Jevrell) talked about its approach to innovation, entrepreneurship for the future, the digital economy and its immigration policies which challenge its distribution of welfare funds.

It was a good hour of listening to the speakers and hearing the questions posed by the audience after. There was this strong thread of the concept of 'mutual trust' brought up as the intangible force binding the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries' coalition governments seemed to have found a balance between politics and efficient delivery of public services, and gained trust from its citizenry. Denmark stressed that "nobody really want to live on unemployment benefits", and it's also the people who would want to work and contribute to the greater good of the society. Norway mentioned that when the welfare state worked well, there would be this belief and feeling of 'we're in this together', allowing for bigger redistribution (of income and wealth); people trust that someone would benefit.

There're heated discussions floating around on whether Singapore should head that way or how good the Nordic societies have it in comparison to us. Well, while some opinions are born of idealism, many are valid. It is a sort of testament to our economic progress, education opportunities and growth of civil discourse that we can debate these issues not just politically or academically or society-at-large, but indivudally and across social spheres. All good I say. It's something the electorate should think about, in relation to all taxes, the quality of government medical provisions, pension funds (erm CPF in our case) and what we can do for ourselves.

On a personal note, while I embrace certain aspects of the Nordic welfare model, for example, education and policies bridging social inequality, I'm not so enamored with the others, say, its provision of medical services for its citizens, or its concept of efficiency in delivering public services (not just transport). It's all a matter what we would like to see in our society. Looking at the consumerism that marks this city, and the always-pressing economic concerns, can we accept egalitarianism? It's impossible to create a Utopia. Some cities work and some don't. But we're a city and a country. We don't have the luxury of moving to another city within Singapore if something doesn't work for us. Singapore residents are lucky to have this choice instead of worrying about war, guns, religious strife, and civil and political unrest. We're back to this word and concept I'm incredibly suspicious about- trade-offs.


L Lee said...

I celebrated the recent increase in taxes for those in the highest brackets... Glad for that move against the backdrop of PM's quote on taxes in the previous post.

We need not strive to fully emulate the Nordic model I guess, but no harm aspiring to the strengths of their society, and eking our own way there.

imp said...

Oh those new taxes are a good step. Timely. The next few years are going to be fun!