Democracy is about trust, participation, and inclusion. It is about building a fair system of giving and receiving. Indeed, it is about lifting up and getting onboard those who need help. Democracy also requires growth and development, as we human beings want to do more and better. We want to bake a bigger cake so that there is more to receive and more to share for communal activities like social services, health, education, culture, sports, entertainment and more. We want bigger roads, faster trains, higher buildings, better houses, and so on.

Democracy is about choosing and regulating an economic system that creates growth and development, and looks after all citizens. In our time, the capitalist system rules the world. Yet, the type and depth of the regulatory systems vary. In the most successful countries, measured in high living standards and welfare, and happiness indexes, there is high, progressive taxation and redistribution of wealth; there are relatively low differences between those who are low or average and those who are well-to-do and higher up. That is essential for creative and innovation societies, and for democracy.

Alas, there has in recent decades been an increase in the number of filthy rich, notably in the magnitude of the resources the rich can amass in all countries. There has also been an increase in the number of people at the bottom of the ladder, those who fall outside and become direct and indirect victims of those who succeed, stepping on the weak and defenceless, because the systems allow that to happen. 

In the sharing social-democratic welfare states, the Scandinavian countries, and most other Western European countries, along with Canada and Oceania, the democratic success and the willingness to establish systems that include all, have proven that it is possible to have a thriving capitalist economy and a humane and caring social sector. It is a fact that it is possible to do both at the same time, if the politicians really want to; or, put differently, if they actually understand enough about the societies they lead, I’d say. 

Today, the key job by politicians anywhere, political parties, organizations, and citizens, is to ascertain that the social democratic systems (and some more centrist parties) are kept alive politically and ideologically. That is the way to stop the reversing of the humane and caring societies the social democrats have built. That means that they must not allow reduced social services, lower unemployment benefits, lower allowances to the disabled, more competitive educational institutions, lower job security in work places, and so on.

People used to say that elected leaders had to work for policies and actions that are good for all in a town or community, if not they were to be acceptable. If they only benefitted some, indeed those at the top but not the masses at the bottom, they were unacceptable. That thinking must be kept alive even today. 

The history about the social democratic development of the welfare state must be remembered properly, yes, even by the Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and Icelanders, those who actually did best in implementing social democratic policies, which were sometimes even socialist policies. They benefitted all, indeed those at the bottom of the ladder. Today, some of the former social democrats have given in to the populists on the right; it is not only the conservatives on the right and those on the far right, who have become populists, even some of the old centrists and leftists. They have vague understanding of what democracy and equality would be, and what politicians should work for. Everywhere, politicians must work for those who need help rather than those who can look after their own interests themselves. 

In Sweden, the most modern, populous and richest of the five Nordic countries, the social democratic policies were developed after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Scandinavians chose a middle way, not a communist or left-wing socialist way, which they could have done after the creation of USSR. The rest of Western Europe, too, developed similar policies as the Swedes, but often with rather centrist or more right-oriented policies. In Sweden, the dominant part of the social democratic party was centre-left, not centre-right. The pragmatic policies for all suited the level-headed Swedes well, the economists, engineers, and practical doers. The other Europeans, even the immediate neighbours in Scandinavia, could sometimes have stronger ideological and experimental groups. I’d say that the Swedes sometimes were, and are, more German than the Germans, and they are rarely philosophers like the French. One particularly important trait of the Swedes is fairness and inclusiveness, in a concrete and practical way. In Sweden, at least 90-95 percent of the people must benefit from new policies, plans and actions. That kind of thinking is indeed a social democratic and socialist thinking. Unfortunately, the conservatives never developed such inclusive thinking or ideologies. They would rather reluctantly accept social democratic solutions when they saw they worked, but they would rarely themselves be at the forefront working for social and economic change for all.

Let me add that in Sweden the social democratic politicians would also have a small window for elitism, too, snobbish as the Swedes can be! They probably believe that something good can trickle down also from what the elite does, from aristocrats and eccentrics, and indeed the industrialists and owners of land and resources. As a matter of fact, the social democrats may have a ‘dual personality’, allowing small elite groups to exist parallel with the majority in the social democratic society. True, the elitist, upper class capitalist groups may have made it possible for the Swedes to compete better internationally where there are similar groups, not only the average middle- and working class people and organizations. The social democratic states may be owners of factories and activities, but with operations to be implemented on competitive capitalist terms. High taxation would take care of redistribution to ordinary people – after all, economic activities are not an end in themselves but a means to improving people’s lives and building the land. 

With these examples from Sweden and Europe, or rather, the history of the development of the social democratic welfare state in the West, what lessons can we draw for the development elsewhere in the world? Let me say that first, it is important to realize that the history and time of the development of the welfare state in Europe in the last century cannot be repeated in other countries and regions today. Many ideas and theories can be learnt and used, but the implementation cannot be copied. Yet, many of the organizations and institutions that the West established to develop the social democratic welfare state should be developed in other countries even today.

I believe strongly in the importance of labour unions, and the employers’ associations, to work in an atmosphere of fairness and understanding between the parties. There is a need for educating the groups, the labour unionists and the employers’ representatives, about how the overall economy, the different sectors and the individual companies work. It is important that the capitalists understand how they are part of a land that shall benefit all, not only themselves as companies and capitalists. 

Recently, I listened to an hour-long interview from 21.02.18 on the Norwegian VG newspaper with Svein Richard Brandtsæg, the CEO of Norway’s largest companies, Norsk Hydro, with over 35,000 employees. He underlined these aspects better than I have been able to do in my article today. He praised the competence of the labour union leaders. He stressed the importance of relatively small differences in salaries and influence by all staff in a company. Dr. Brandtsæg is also the chairman of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, from where he gained his degrees in chemical engineering, plus studies in business administration in Oslo. He comes from modest backgrounds in a small West Coast town, with quite strict work ethics and religious standards. He said in the interview that he is not a very religious man, but his work ethics he has kept, along with an interest in people.  He stressed that to be a successful capitalist in a modern social democratic welfare state is much more than only looking at the bottom line of the accounts sheet.

Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, is a former labour union leader. He is not an academically educated politician, as so many are today. He is a man ‘from the other side of the table’, not the owners’ and capitalists’ side. He is a social democrat, a leader who sees issues from all sides, those who need to make profit and the ordinary people who need to benefit from economic activities. Again, companies and economic activities are not an end in themselves, they are to benefit people, hence, cooperation and regulations are needed. This is a key pragmatic understanding of all social democrats and democratic socialists, and must be to all who want to build a welfare state in their lands. In Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world, the more often politicians and private sector leaders learn from the European history, and say what Brandtsæg and Löfven say, the sooner democratic development and the welfare state will be a reality. But it can only be built on the terms of each country’s working people.