Danish Welfare: Why? How? The future?

Five important reasons behind the welfare state in Denmark.

The background for the welfare state or society is that we care for each other, that we feel some solidarity with people outside our family and close friends. In this way, mutual trust between citizens in the society is vital as well as faith in institutions like the legal system, police, public administration, and politicians.

What are the main historical and cultural reasons behind the Danish welfare state?

1. Reformation of Christianity 500 years ago.

This year we celebrate the 500 years anniversary of the Reformation. The main idea behind this revolt against the “Pope church” was to establish a direct relation between God and people. There was no need for priests to represent God and the entire Catholic system of “church tax” was a politically determined system based on power and privileges and not based on religion.

The Bible was translated from Latin into Danish and Luther’s small extract of the Bible giving concise daily Christian rules of living was a part of many ordinary families.

The attitude of life was therefore dramatically changed by giving responsibility to the ordinary human being because that way he could find out for himself and teach himself. At the same time, the art of printing meant that books could be printed and distributed among part of the population.

Keywords: Self-determination, learning ability, art of printing lead to the idea of establishing the welfare system

2. Enlightenment and cooperatives.

The awakening of the ordinary man was seen by Grundtvig as an important condition for the forming of a free democratic constitution in 1849. If the right to vote was not qualified by engagement, knowledge and a feeling of being part of society – then democracy would not be “governing to the best for Denmark”, but only for the uneducated masses.

The folk high schools established in 1844 to encourage farmers to be part of the society and take part in the society by obtaining a stronger identity. By singing Danish songs, listening to poets, reading Danish literature, dramatizing history and story-telling about the Nordic Myths the farmers became citizens and not just simple producers and workers.

This rise in dignity, self-esteem, and personal skills meant that the farmers were able to change production methods. Previously raw materials – mainly grain – were exported to the world markets, but due to new transport facilities like railways the world markets prices were reduced dramatically. Then what to do? The farmers grasped this challenge by transforming their production into more valuable products like dairies making cheese, butter and different kinds of milk products. So more cultivation of farm products by the use of new technologies and methods made the farmers motivated to obtaining knowledge and new ways of organizing.

The way to organize this was by establishing cooperatives, which meant that the farmers owned the cultivation facilities and companies of their products jointly. The cooperative was a democratic form of organization, giving one farmer one vote not depending on the size of his farm. In the cooperative farmers had to learn to govern their cooperative by planning, building up information, democratic decision-making and good governance of the cooperative.

Keywords: Enlightenment of ordinary man, participation in society, democratic skills learned by experience and being active citizens of society. The feeling responsibility and engagement were important factors in the support of the welfare system.

3. Early elementary school laws in Denmark.

As early as in 1814 there was a school law in Denmark giving universal rights to be educated – not depending on social background.  All children should be educated, not only attending school because there was a free school law allowing parents to establish their own free schools with state support.

In the countryside, it was not fully implemented, but children all over Denmark were educated part of the year. This basic education meant that children from different classes and backgrounds were taught basic subjects although it took quite some time before it was fully implemented towards working class children – in fact it is not fully implemented even today.

The idea was that you have to learn to get a better life – that means that social mobility is built upon knowledge and skills obtained.

Keywords: The idea of learning was formed, free school system, raise of basic skills and knowledge would lead to improving the conditions of the welfare system.

4. Danish trade union system and labour markets system.

Trade unions are an important organizational background for solidarity among workers. “Numbers count” as it is said – the more members you are and the more you keep together the stronger you are. Trade unions were established in early industrialization as a protection against exploitation and marginalization.

Trade unions focused primarily on concrete working conditions like working hours, payment, security and rights in general. The stronger you are the better working conditions you get.

The employers also organized to be strong and use the large-scale effect of organizing. They too had an interest in stability, production efficiency and partners to negotiate with and to make agreements with. In this sense there was a mutual interest in a foreseeable and well-organized labour market with duties and rights.

The Danish labour market is organized among private organizations which means that the state is not normally part of it, In case a crisis is threatening the whole society the present government passes a law. The independent and free labour markets is unique for Denmark making the partners more engaged and responsible.

Flexicurity is a welfare model with a proactive labor market policy. The term refers to the0 combination of a labour market flexibility, and a labour market with a dynamic economy, and security for workers.

The Government of Denmark views flexicurity as entailing a “golden triangle” with a three-sided mix of (1) flexibility in the labour force combined with (2) social security and (3) an active labour market  policy with rights and obligations for the unemployed.

Keywords: Solidarity based on organizational capacity, civil society based on labour market systems giving self-determination, Flexicurity is a good triangle – it all leads to welfare system.


5. The election system.

The principle of a proportional democratic voting system is securing a balanced and fair democratic representation, because 2 % of the votes gives 2 % of the mandates in parliament. The result is many small parties contrary to countries like the US and the UK, and it makes a climate of compromises and across class differences. In Denmark there is seldom a pure rightwing or leftwing government, but compromises, alliances and politicial decisions are being negotiated.

This also means that minority governments are usually governing in Denmark, Such a government is obliged to take legislation proposals to the Folketing in order to negotiate and rerach a broader consensus, compared to a majority government which usually makes a power-constellation and “take it or leave it” policy.

Keywords: Proportional election system, compromises and minority governments, broader consensus are the conditions for welfare