Ideas Matter, But Institutions Matter More

Marjo Koivisto

in Normative State Power in International Relations

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199652792
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745270 | DOI:
Ideas Matter, But Institutions Matter More

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Many analysts of Scandinavian political economy concluded during the early 1990s economic downturn in Northern Europe that the Nordic model had become unsustainable. The scholarly debate about the causes of the Nordic model’s decline and transformation boils down to two arguments. The first attributes change to “brute facts”: the external economic necessities that the Nordic states had to deal with at the end of the Cold War and in the aftermath of the economic downturn in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The second position, focused on norms, discourse and shared values, provides a sophisticated, but ultimately problematic account of change through a ‘legitimation crisis’. With the rise of the European project, the advocates of this position argued, the values underpinning the ‘Nordic model’ were deemed out-of-date and not actionable. The Nordic political and economic model, it was argued, was effectively delegitimized, in favour of a more ‘modern’ rhetoric and economic model for the progressive state. This chapter argues that the legitimization crisis argument is wanting in explaining this conditioning role, because it reduces the Nordic model to a set of values and a rhetorical toolkit. That this literature did not account for two fundamental elements of normative state power of the ‘Nordic model’: a) the institutional strength of the social institutions of the ‘Nordic model’ bear on attempts at its transformation by new state projects; and b) the similarities in terms of norms of organizational design for the welfare state between the ‘universal welfare state’ version of the Nordic model, and the ‘knowledge economy’ version that followed.

Keywords: Nordic model; growth; legitimation; knowledge; innovation

Chapter.  5300 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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