Social Democracy

Social democracy is a political system in which governments fund public services by collecting taxes; it is compatible with capitalism

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, The safety net for unemployed Americans is inadequate, and The Economist published a critique of American retirement benefits on 7 November 2015: Age may well wither them.

●  France can be classified as a social democracy although it has large elements of socialism.  The French population has a broadly favourable public attitude towards State provision of services and public infrastructure, placing more emphasis on these than either Britain or America.  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.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6231.htm.