About Those Swedes

I’ve often wondered what other factors besides form of government might contribute to the Swedish experiment. Now, I understand things a little more clearly:

Sweden is often held up by American pundits and experts as a kind of Utopia, a country to be emulated. As is often the case when dealing with Utopias however, the complexities of history, culture and policy frequently are shoved aside.

True enough. Lest we forget, “utopia” means “no where.” It’s as true today as when the word was first minted.

After all, even before the high-tax welfare state, Sweden was characterized by an even distribution of income, low poverty and long life spans, the same phenomena that today are said to be the result of high-tax welfare policies. In 1950, before the high-tax welfare state, Swedes lived 2.6 years longer than Americans. Today the difference is 2.7 years.

A more reasonable view of why Sweden performs well on many social metrics has its basis in history and sociology: Swedes have for hundreds of years benefited from sound low-level institutions, such as a strong work ethic and high levels of trust and cooperation.

These cultural phenomena do not disappear when Swedes cross the Atlantic to the supposedly inferior “cowboy” country. On the contrary, they appear to bloom fully. The 4.4 million Americans with Swedish origins are considerably richer than the average American. If Americans with Swedish ancestry would form their own country their per capita GDP would be $56,900, more than $10,000 above the earnings of the average American.

It is almost as though we are talking about social capital, with those references to “high levels of trust and cooperation.” And the fact that the poverty rate is similar for those of a this particular ethnic mix–despite the people living in two remarkably disparate countries.

Anyway, read the entire article, if you would. I think you’ll find it thought-provoking.