Finland’s Social Democrats moved towards emphasizing private sector-led employment, approached the middle classes, adopted monetarist ideas, accepted the ‘market economy’ and favoured ‘controlled restructuring’ over counter-cyclical measures in a series of steps in 1975–1998. The deregulation of financial markets meant a shifting of the basis of Social Democratic employment policy from steering the capitalist economy to seeking market acceptance of the party’s politics. This did not manage to guarantee full employment in Finland during the period.
The Social Democratic ideal of full employment had paradoxically required a stronger role for the state sector in providing employment at the very same time that economic circumstances became more market-driven. Thus, the weakening of economic growth itself does not explain the crisis of social democracy. The same is true regarding the rise of the middle classes as a reason behind the crisis of social democracy.
On the contrary, the introduction of middle-class-oriented third way policies did not manage to hinder the marginalization of a substantial part of waged workers, which weakened SDP’s popularity. Furthermore, leading Finnish Social Democrats did not openly refer to neoliberal ideologists even if their employment-related ideas and policies became partly neoliberal-oriented during the last decades of the 20th century.
The primacy of work remained the central concept of Social Democratic thought in Finland at the same time. However, the Social Democrats did not manage to drop the number of unemployed below 100,000 (around 4% of the workforce) in Finland after 1975. This is a significant reason for the crisis of social democracy. Thus, whether mass unemployment stemmed from heavily Social Democratic-driven national employment-sensitive policies, Social Democratic employment policy strategy, the power of other parties, the interests of employers or the functioning of globalizing capitalism is a secondary question when analysing the fortunes of social democracy.
Furthermore, Finland’s Social Democrats seemed initially to practise a ‘third way’ type of ‘Bad Sillanpää’ policy long before its adherents in the UK, such as Tony Blair. After the mid-1970s, the Finnish Social Democrat-led governments no longer imitated Sweden, while implementing many reforms which were followed by the Swedish Social Democrats.