Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Social democracy succeeds on the strength of its policies, not because of cultural superiority

Image: Flickr user Visa Kopu snaps a photo of her maternity benefit (or "baby box"), sent to every pregnant mother in Finland shortly before her delivery. (source)

This series examines commonly held, racist views on social policy. Part 1 examined the racist idea that social democracy can only work in society that is already harmonious, wealthy, and egalitarian. Even a cursory look at the history of Finland in the early 1900's--desperately impoverished, war-torn, oppressed by occupying armies, society shattered by a brutal civil war--quickly makes these arguments untenable. It also exposes them as racist. Part 2 examined the racist claim that social democracy only succeeds in a homogeneous society. This claim is made untenable (in part) by the experiences of Sweden, which is--by many measures--one of the most diverse nations in Europe. Clearly, minorities are not so evil that their mere presence destroys welfare states. Rather, this view reflects our own racism; when we see statistics that the Swedish educational system is among the very best in the entire world, we assume that there cannot be any students there who aren't white.

This post--part 3--begs the question: If racial, cultural, or genetic superiority cannot account for the success of social democracy--what can?

For this post, we will focus on social democratic child welfare policies (especially infant mortality and childbirth attendance) as an instructive example.

Why do these policies work?
As I've written before, there is no question that social democratic policies are successful. The social democracies as a group have led the developed world in all quality of life indicators, particularly infant mortality and life expectancy, while simultaneously (as a group) leading the developed world in low unemployment and high rates of economic growth. There's no question that the policies work. The question is: why?

The "why" question is of the utmost importance because the conditions of the Scandinavian social democracies in the first few decades of the 1900's--especially Finland--resemble underdeveloped countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia today. Though prosperous now, the Scandinavian social democracies had endemic poverty and catastrophic quality of life indicators in the early 1900's. For example, Finland's infant mortality rate peaked in the 1930's at a staggering 90 deaths per 1000 live births, which is comparable to the worst infant mortality rates in the world today:

At three deaths per 1000 live births, Finland currently has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Indeed, the Scandinavian social democracies today have some of the best quality of life indicators in the entire world, even though much of the rest of the developed world had a head start. Is there some reason why policies that worked so well in Scandinavia could not work in the Central African Republic or Mali?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Links worth reading: Obama's very busy week

Obama destroys lives of 70,000 people in exchange for a few votes from white people
  • [O]ne longtime activist burst into tears when asked how the decision might affect his friends and family.
  • To wait nine more weeks means the President has agreed to deport more than 70,000 people, more than 1,100 every day, and continues cementing his legacy as the Deporter-in-Chief.

3 more years of war in Iraq
  • For those who favor air strikes: if, as most regional and military experts predict, it turns out that airstrikes are insufficient to seriously degrade ISIS, would you then favor a ground invasion?...For those who keep running around beating their chests talking about the imperative to “destroy ISIS”: will that take more or less time than it’s taken to “destroy the Taliban”? Does it ever occur to such flamboyant warriors to ask why those sorts of groups enjoy so much support, and whether yet more bombing of predominantly Muslim countries – and/or flooding the region with more weapons – will bolster rather than subvert their strength?
  • Is Obama’s new plan something he genuinely believes in? Or does he recognize it’s stupid, and is just doing it for the optics? There’s a dismal precedent for the latter option: His decision to extend what he knew was a dead-end war in Afghanistan for two years because of the bellicose promises he’d made in order to look tough during his first political campaign. That time, he traded about 1,300 American lives for optics.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Economies of scale, avoiding administrative problems, and automatic eligibility: why social democratic/single payer systems are more efficient

Image: source

Update: Part 3 can be found here

Social democratic programs can provide social welfare services more efficiently--higher quality at a lower cost--than other types of public social welfare programs, as well as the private market. My first post on this issue dealt mostly with actuarial values, and for good reason. For all social welfare services--from health insurance to child care--actuarial values are of primary importance; for disability insurance and defined benefit pensions--a category that includes Social Security--actuarial values are the entire story (much more about retirement benefits in the first post on this issue, as well as here and here).

But in my excitement over actuarial values (I'm not like most people), I failed to elaborate the other factors that make social democratic programs more efficient than other program designs and the private market: economies of scale and other administrative issues, mostly centering around eligibility.