Tuesday, March 9

Why are Scandanavian welfare states so successful?

Reason protests:
For those of us who place more trust in free markets than state-directed economies, we must inevitably (and repeatedly) confront the skeptical interlocutor who details the "successes" of Swedish social democracy. "If state intervention into the economy is so bad, high taxes so destructive, then why is Sweden such a success?" It's an irritatingly simple question with a incredibly complicated answer, though I do recommend pointing out, when the conversation turns to health care and secondary education, that nothing, in a state the confiscates a massive portion of your income, is "free." But as many have pointed out, during its boom years, Sweden was a pretty free market place; from the 1970s through the 1990s—when taxes and regulation dramatically increased—the economy slowed until it spun out in the early 1990s.

There isn't enough time in the day to respond to the ceaseless stream of Sweden hagiographers, though I took a crack at it a few years back, when a liberal blogger at The American Prospect, in an error-laden piece of Google scholarship, told readers that "everything they knew about Sweden was wrong."

[..] My favorite Sweden-know-it-all, incidentally, is lefty blogger Matthew Yglesias, who never misses an opportunity to correct American "misconceptions" about the land of Ace of Base and early retirement (you see, he went on a junket to Stockholm last year). "Americans often find this a bit confusing but Scandinavia," he recently wrote, "strictly speaking, only refers to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway." Or this classic bit of pompous pedantry, correcting the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on whether, when he served as prime minister, he was technically the "head of state": "I don’t necessarily expect Americans to grasp the distinction, since our President is both head of state and head of government, but Sweden’s prime minister is not a head of state."

Elsewhere, Yglesias claims that former conservative party leader Bo Lundgren is the "architect" of the Swedish model. As Lundgren, author of the 1989 book Sänk skatten för alla (Lower Taxes for All), recently explained to the Telegraph, "I am a market liberal. I was even called the nearest Sweden had every (sic) come to having a party one could call libertarian." Picayune details, I suppose.

But the nitpicky often segues into the bizarre generalization: "My bottom line: Visit the Nordic countries and you’ll be impressed that their civilian public agencies are much more effective than ours." Well. How one determines that Sweden's "civilian public agencies" are better functioning than those in the United States during a few days in Stockholm (Did he try to post a letter? Start a business?), is left unsaid. But I have dealt with all manner of public agencies in Sweden and the results were, at best, mixed (try changing doctors in Stockholm).

So here is my bottom line: When some American pundit, with expertise is everything, explains why some European welfare state "works," or how everything you know is wrong about taxing income at 75 percent, do a little digging, make use of Google Translate, and don't trust that, because Swedes and Danes tell researchers that they are happy, the United States should introduce "daddy leave" and provide subsidies to syndicalist newspapers.

The best English-language explication of the Swedish model comes from my pal Johan Norberg, who wrote this brilliant piece for The National Interest a few years back. And watch my interview with Norberg on Swedish welfare politics here and on Naomi Klein here.

One commenter:
My sample size is relatively small, but all of the Norwegians and Swedes I ever met:

1. Had a fanatical work ethic.
2. Believed that the state ought to ensure a minimum standard of living.
3. Were honest to the point of annoyance.
4. Had no desire for wealth.
5. Believed ostentatious displays of wealth were either seriously tacky or outright immoral.

Mix this culture with nearly immeasurably low crime and easy access to world markets for import and export, and you've probably got a successful society, 66% tax rate or no.

But for the love of God, don't let them cook for you.
Well myself am a Norwegian, and i must say that the so called welfare states are a joke. The only ones who earn on it is the immigrants who refuses to work and still get enough to live and more. Its pure exploitation of the welfare system where everyone who actully needs help dont get any and those who exploit the system get all they want. Try to send a letter to the public services and you will most likely never hear anything from them because they "didnt get it" or such. Many Norwegians are now asking our government "What will we live with after the oil dissapears?". And we dont get any answers. Where is the Norwegian Industri? Its not there at all, they have been chased out of the country because Sosialistisk Venstreparti(Socialist Left Party) have declared a open war against those who are rich. Today UN and other will write Norway is "World greatest country" in 40 years we will not even get mentioned because we wont have anything more to live with. Because of our Welfare system and because we are a socialist anti cooperation country.

Im sorry if my English isnt to good but i am a Norwegian so bare with me.
The economic system is not the whole culture, only part of it. If we didn't have [formerly enslaved] racial minorities, huge immigration issues, lots of crime, etc. we would be as well off or better than the Swedes. The question is whether less welfare state and more free markets will make Sweden even better, and the answer is yes.

Compared to Sweden, we bare many more evils.
Matt Yglesias himself (my favorite progressive blogger) engages in comments here. I enjoyed the thread.

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