Film: Why talk about the Nordics as a region?

2019.12.17 | Nicola Witcombe

Picture of presenter of film about Nordics

Are the Nordic countries really that similar to one another? - Or different from the rest of the world? Is discussion of 'the Nordics' simply a branding exercise, or can it be a useful analytical lens? Join Nicola Witcombe, the editor of nordics.info, in a brief exploration of the some of the ways people talk about the Nordics. This is the first in a series of short films on the humanities and social sciences in the Nordics and the world, supported by the University Hub ‘Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World’ (ReNEW), NordForsk and Aarhus University.

If you are interested in some of the topics mentioned in the film, you may like to choose one of the following links:

The five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) are often characterised as being welfare capitalist, featuring a combination of free market activity and government intervention. However, the institutional frameworks and economic policy models have changed over time, and the ‘model’ used has varied between countries and throughout their history. The success of the Nordic economies has arguably shown that economic prosperity can go hand in hand with the welfare state.

There have been drastic changes to the political and economic climate since the inception of the Nordic welfare states in the twentieth century. Changes are required to meet the needs of today’s populations. People are less static than they once were; their roles both in and out of the job market change over time, and integration with the surrounding world’s economy and peoples influence national systems. Some academics within the Nordics view the welfare state as in crisis, while others believe that bold political choices can help the ‘model’ to adjust to new times.

The Nordic countries are today among the richest countries in the world measured by GDP per capita. These countries also come top in more or less every international comparison of competitiveness. This was not the case 150 years ago. In the mid-nineteenth century the Nordic economies lagged behind those of the leading industrialised nations. The economic development in these countries has therefore been swift. At the same time these countries do not resemble the ‘textbook model’ of efficiency: the Nordic economies have been marked by large public sectors, extensive and generous welfare systems, a high level of taxation and considerable state involvement. As a result the ‘Nordic model’ has received considerable international attention.

Organisations exist to facilitate the discussion and coordination of policies in areas of joint interest to the Nordic countries. The Nordic Council fosters co-operation among parliamentarians from member nations and the Nordic Council of Ministers promotes cooperation among government officials. Without power to make laws, these bodies are nevertheless influential and useful instruments for both Nordic cooperation and pursuing Nordic interests outside the region.

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