Social democracy is one of the three forms of welfare capitalism presented by political theorist Esping-Andersen. The social democratic regime is also known as a universalistic system, where the state offers welfare to maintain high standards and promote equality at all levels of society. There is no division to access these welfare services, as they are available for everyone and the state preemptively socializes elements such as medicine, education, childcare, elderly and homeless care, and other broad benefit social programs, ensuring a social safety net before individual or family capacity to support themselves is depleted. Family costs are socialized for some individual independence. However, this model requires a strong commitment to the social service burden, with the governance system aimed at the welfare of those who it supports and encouraging full employment or participation, but at the same time heavily taxes citizens and businesses to fund the welfare state.
Social democracy is characterized by three principles of freedom, justice, and solidarity. Freedom implies that individuals have the right and choice to live as they please, making decisions without government intervention arbitrarily. Justice implies both that everyone is equal under the law regardless of background or family ties, as well as that everyone is provided the same opportunities regardless of their background or characteristics. Finally, solidarity suggests that everyone should be willing to help each other and society, to work together as a community. Social democracy also values the balance of positive and negative civil rights, ensuring that rights are both protected, and individuals are given the right to practice civil rights freely (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2012).
Therefore, social democracy is a political system where the government provides certain socio-economic rights and entitlements that are for the benefit of all members of the community. These are positive state actions and aim to provide social and economic rights such as basic education, adequate healthcare, housing, productive employment, fair wages, and guaranteed pensions. Although no country practices a perfect social democracy, several constitutional democracies in Europe, particularly the Nordic trio of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are known for strong social democratic and egalitarian policies with a very strong commitment to the idea of a state-supported society (Patrick, n.d.).
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. (2012). What is social democracy? [Video]. Youtube.
Patrick, J. (n.d.). Social democracy. Annenberg Classroom.