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A Social Minimum for Whom? Making a Case for a Normative Pattern of Pragmatic Decency

Chapter in book
Authors Sara Stendahl
Otto Swedrup
Published in Kotkas,T. Leijten, I. and Pennings, F. (eds), Specifying and Securing a Social Minimum in the Battle Against Poverty
Pages 47-67
ISBN 978 1 50992 602 2
Publisher Hart Publishing
Place of publication Oxford
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Law
Pages 47-67
Language en
Subject categories Law and Society, Social welfare law, Public law


Deciding to whom, in the face of destitution, a social minimum is to be allocated, is a question of scope. This is a chapter on scope and while it discusses this topic in a local context, we acknowledge that at the core the question ‘who counts?’ is philosophical and has divided writings on ethics and justice for centuries. The chapter puts forward two contrasting approaches on how to understand ‘who counts’ in a Swedish setting, one more particularist (based on a historic narrative) and another more universalist (based on a legal narrative). Of these two it is only the more universalist version that provides an explanation for a Swedish solidarity that evidently encompasses not only citizens and residents but also strangers and outcasts, people with distinctly weak civil and social rights. This is solidarity at a minimal level, sometimes handed out harshly and with no reference to rights – but it does exist and we propose that it plays an important role in the intricate web of values that forms the Swedish welfare state. In an effort to identify the core characteristics of this tradition we have described it as based on a normative pattern of ‘pragmatic decency’.

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