6.2.3.1 Social Democracy

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6231.htm)

A government can achieve collectivist objectives, providing public services and ensuring that people have a chance of flourishing as well as their talents permit, without intruding upon individual freedom beyond the need to collect tax.  It is possible to provide a robust social safety-net without trying to plan the economy or infringe civil liberties.  Western social democracy allows considerable freedom to markets, uses private providers for some of the services funded by the State, and has an above-average record on tolerance and human rights.

Social-democratic countries have reached different positions in the balance between State control and individual freedom:

  • Both Britain and America are social democracies, under the definition being used here, but Americans place a higher level of importance on individual freedom and have a less comprehensive Welfare State: New America.org published an article in October 2010, under the title The safety net for unemployed Americans is inadequate, and The Economist published a critique of American retirement benefits on 7 November 2015 under the title Age may well wither them.
  • France is considerably more socialist than either Britain or America and its population has a broadly favourable public attitude towards State provision of services and public infrastructure. It has State shareholdings in major industries and services, as highlighted in an Economist article on 7 July 2005: French privatisation: In name only?.  It also has a large public sector – more than 20% of the active workforce – as described in a BBC article: European economy: How French and German states compare.

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