Ever hear something like this? "Obama is going to make America a socialist country like those Europeans." or "We need a more just economic system like they have in Europe." Whenever discussions of economic systems arise in the U. S., somehow we always seem to be doing comparisons to “Europe.” I write Europe in quotes because there is no European economic system. There are nearly four dozen countries in Europe. The economies of the United Kingdom, Russia, Greece, Germany, France, and Sweden vary widely. But when I hear Americans get more specific I typically hear them reference the Nordic economic model (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) with Sweden being the poster child.
I don’t consider comparative economics my strong suit but I do try to read up on different economic systems. As I listen to both left and right employ Sweden in their debates, I do wonder if pundits on either side have really looked at what has happened in Sweden in the past fifty years.
Recently I came across and article, A Swedish Lesson For Ed Balls, written by conservative Swedish economist Anders Aslund. I don’t know much about him. From what I do know, I’m not sure I would entirely agree with him on economic issues, but I think he does a good job of capturing the shifts in Swedish policy over recent decades. I think most Americans, left and right, are about twenty years behind the curve in the perceptions of the Nordic economic model, with Sweden of the 1970s and 1980s frozen in their minds as our present reality. Aslund begins his article in the Salisbury Review:
To Brits, Sweden with its tightly regulated social welfare state is often a byword for socialism. But in the last two decades the country has been transformed. today it offers a flexible and dynamic European model with ever falling public expenditure, lower taxes, economic growth and budget surpluses.
After many years of absence from the Swedish debate, I attended a conference on the Swedish economy in the southern city of Malmö in May, organized by Swedbank. The 180 speakers represented the full range of Swedish views, which have moved amazingly far to the free-market right, not least social democrats and trade union leaders. Key values are competition, openness and efficiency, while social and environmental values remain. The idea is not to abolish social welfare but to make it more efficient through competition among private providers. A new consensus has emerged on having a social welfare society rather than a social welfare state. ...
Read the whole piece. It may challenge your perceptions. If you are Swedish are have intimate knowledge of the Swedish system, I’d be interested in hearing your take on Aslund’s claims.
Related: What to Look For in the Nordic Model