Is Scandinavian socialism really just regulated capitalism?

Scandinavian socialism: Image of the flags of five Scandinavian (Nordic) countries
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Scandinavian socialism

I’ve seen many contradictory comments online about “Scandinavian socialism” vs “No, they’re capitalist”. Some feel Scandinavian economies fit modern definitions of socialism, others feel they’re capitalist economies with strong social safety nets, sometimes described as “European welfare states”.

I’ve wondered how much people’s preferred ideological rhetoric matches reality.

Believing that no meaningful answers are likely to appear in any social media comments, I decided to look into, what, independent of these labels, are the important and interesting characteristics of Scandinavian economies?

Analyzing “Scandinavian socialism”

This is the first post in a series whose intention is to examine Scandinavian economies devoid of ideological rhetoric. The purpose is to compare what’s similar between them, and what’s different.

The nations we tend to think of as Scandinavian are:

Since the post-WW2 world is drastically different from what preceded it, my intention is to analyze these economies starting at the end of WW2.

I’m thinking the following topics merit review:

Summary of major economic changes, 1945 to present

This will be a very brief overview with which to start.

The structure of the government

The overall structure, branches of, interactions between, etc.

The political climate

How many political parties are there?

How many of these parties dominate the political discourse?

Where do they “fit” on the political spectrum?

How do the people tend to interact with them?

And how does their voting system work?

The business sector

Is the economy dominated by large multinational mega-corporations?

Small family-owned firms?

Some combination thereof?

What laws define and influence this?

Trade unions

How widespread are trade unions?

And how are they thought of by the population?

Government corruption

To what extent is the government considered to be corrupt? Considered to be beholden to monied interests?

What abuses and scandals do we know of?

The legal system

What are the guiding principles?

How is it structured?

What is the system of courts?

How are they run?

The banking system and banking regulation

What interesting or noteworthy actions have been taken by central banks?

What characteristics define and shape the nation’s banking system?

To what extent are commercial banking and investment banking kept separate, or not?

Government regulations of the economy

How heavily or lightly does the government regulate commercial activity?

And how does it seem this shapes the economy?

Which sectors are regulated the most heavily? Why?


What forms of taxes are imposed (income, consumption, property)?

How much?


How is the healthcare system, which includes the health insurance system, structured?

How is it funded?


How is the education system structured?

How much is publically funded? Privately funded?

What laws affect how this works?

How effective is it considered to be?

What is the literacy rate?

What percentage of the population graduates high school? Attends university? Gets PhDs?

Natural resources

What natural resources, if any, does the nation sell?

What laws exist for the “harvesting” and “protecting” of natural resources?

Direct government support and intervention

To what degree does the government directly support and/or intervene in the economy?

What “ripple effects” does this seem to influence or cause?

And how does the population seem to feel about this?

Foreign direct investment

What level of foreign direct investment is there?

Where does it come from?

How has this changed over time?

And what laws and policies exist to support, or hinder, this activity?

Important inter and intra country partnerships

Are there “formal” partnerships between government, industry, universities, etc?

If so, what are they and how do they work, and how does the legal system support and/or hinder them?

GDP by sector

Essentially, what is sold most?

The balance of trade

Does the country run a positive or negative trade balance? How large?

For how long has that been true?

Exports by sector

And how much of it leaves the country?

Wealth and income inequality

What degree of wealth and income inequality exists, and what laws allow and/or restrain this?

Series NavigationThe economic and political development of Denmark >>

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