President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson: Social Welfare Benefits the Free Market

The president of Iceland explains the secret to the Nordic countries' recent economic and social success. Social welfare programs such as free access to education and healthcare have proved to be a boon to the free market economy.

Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson recently visited Big Think to discuss a number of the successes and challenges relevant to his small island nation. These are issues both resonant in the present day as well as looking ahead toward the future. A few weeks ago, Grímsson tackled climate change, obviously a challenge moving forward rather than a success (at least, not yet). As for today, the topic is one that has contributed to the progress and prosperity of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. 


Each of those nations, says Grímsson, has a competitive free market economy augmented by a robust social welfare system. These programs ensure that "everybody, irrespective of their income and class, gets the same right to education, to healthcare, and to equal treatment in an economic way." In countries like the United States, social welfare and economic progress are sometimes seen as opposing goals. As Grímsson explains, social welfare in the Nordic states is integral to economic progress:

"This coexistence of a social welfare society, with a right to education and healthcare equally distributed throughout society, is one of the pillars of our economic and business success. So you cannot find any business organization in any of the Nordic countries, which is advocating that we should decrease this social welfare system. On the contrary, the prominent business leaders of our countries realize that the evolution of this social welfare system in terms of education and healthcare is one of the major reasons why the Nordic businesses have been globally so successful and why our market economies have grown so aggressively."

Grímsson tells how an established system dedicated to caring for the sick and educating every child allows the business community to focus on what they do best -- business.

"The Nordic formula, not just the Icelandic one, but also from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, has created what The Economist, the preeminent weekly economic newspaper in the world, deemed a few months ago perhaps the most successful economic model in the last few decades."

Finally, Grímsson notes that his American friends who decry the Nordic system and employ words like "socialist" as pejorative terms are completely missing the point. All you have to do is look at Iceland's economic record, as well as the economies of the other Nordic states, to realize that the rewards of this particular social framework transcend all outdated and myopic biases.

"The evidence is absolutely clear that to provide everybody with a right to education and healthcare is a formula for economic and business success."

For more on social welfare's role in the successful Nordic free market economy, watch the following clip from President Grímsson's Big Think interview:


President Grímsson's is co-founder of Arctic Circle, a non-profit, non-partisan open assembly focused on Arctic issues.

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