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Editorial: Equality means sustainability

| Berit Kvam

Economic crisis, political earthquakes and unprecedented terror in the midst of the Nordic region. It has all impacted the Nordic countries. “Crisis test the strength of the Nordic welfare models” is this month’s Theme. One important question pops up: must the welfare models be adapted to avoid growing differences within the countries?

An increasing number of economists agree that inequality was one of the main drivers behind the economic crisis. Reducing inequalities has been crucial in the work to get Iceland back on its feet after the 2008 collapse. In Portrait the Icelandic Minster for Welfare Gudbjartur Hannesson says his first priority is to ease inequalities which arose during the economic boom years. Both the OECD and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) say Iceland is about to solve its problems in the wake of the financial crisis. 

Reducing inequality is a core value of the Nordic welfare model. In our Theme professor Björn Hvinden says the model keeps what it promises, but that the Nordic region is not unique and that the countries are facing large challenges exactly when it comes to promoting equality. 

Denmark is the one European country where inequality has grown the most over the past few years. As Danes go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 15 September, the economy and employment are the main issues. More and more Danes fear economic bankruptcy and unemployment, and voters will of course be asking which politicians are best suited to govern Denmark through the crisis.

When the Finnish people went to the polls in early summer the True Finns won a surprising 19 percent of votes and became Finland’s third largest political party. Polls have shown a rise in their support ever since. There too people say they want social policies which support people who need it the most. Established politicians have forgotten to listen to those less fortunate in society, say political analysts. 

Icelanders took to the streets when the collapse was a fact, and the prime minister had to step down. In England we have been witnessing riots. From Manchester we hear our correspondent describe how those riots have highlighted the large and growing gap between rich and poor.

Rory O’Farrel, researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, ETUI, thinks it is logical that promoting equality is a prerequisite for sustainable progress. Many Icelanders have suffered the effects of budget cuts made to rebalance the economy, but the aim of equality and welfare for all could, as experiences from other Nordic welfare systems show, be the deciding factor for the country’s future social sustainability.

But the strongest evidence of the strength of Nordic welfare societies came when society’s safety was tested to its very limits and the terror was greeted with 200,000 people carrying roses for democracy. 


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