September 7th, 2013
04:08 PM ET

What Sweden can teach America

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By Global Public Square staff

Conservatives often describe President Obama as a socialist. According to those critics, the president's goal is something called "Swedenization" – sky-high taxes, bloated government, and ruinous welfare policies. Well, the president should have taken some of these conservatives with him to Sweden this week. They would have found a country very different from the Socialist Sweden of the past.

You know how conservatives hate inheritance taxes – or "death taxes"? Well, guess which country has no inheritance tax – Sweden. In fact Sweden today is characterized by a very free market, freer and less regulated than the United States in many areas. It does have high income taxes, but it uses these to fund things like health care and pensions that are far more efficiently run than their counterparts in America. Indeed, Sweden tends to be near the top of most rankings on quality of life and competitiveness.

The old image of Sweden has much truth to it – 20 years ago. In 1995, Sweden had the largest government in Europe as a share of the economy. About 65 percent of its GDP was government spending  –  the nightmare scenario for the American right. Since then, Sweden has been reforming, opening up its economy and becoming market friendly and efficient. By 2012, government spending had fallen by a fifth. Sweden is now in sixth place, behind even France.

Another outdated notion is that the Swedish model of generous healthcare and affordable education would run up enormous budget deficits. In fact, while America's deficit is 5.7 percent, Sweden's is one-eleventh that amount at 0.5 percent. Or consider labor markets. While the United States government bailed out Chrysler and General Motors, Sweden did exactly the opposite – the iconic Saab was allowed to go bankrupt in 2011. Volvo was acquired by a Chinese automaker.

More from GPS: Should U.S. try to be like Scandinavia?

It turns out that socialist Sweden is not as socialist or crazy as the American right would have you believe. Instead, the changes of the last two decades reveal a Swedish government and people who are pragmatic and adaptable.

When Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt came to power as part of a center-right coalition in 2006, he moved to cut corporate taxes, and Swedish companies now pay lower tax rates than American ones. And the downsizing of government is part of a regional trend. In neighboring Norway, the leader expected to win next week's elections is a conservative, running on a campaign to cut taxes.

Slowly but surely, Scandinavian countries are moving away from big government to smart government. Despite the tax cuts and the recent move to the right, Scandinavian states are still big spenders, but increasingly efficient and effective spenders. So although Sweden may have been a last minute addition on the Obama travel schedule, that doesn't mean there aren't important lessons to learn there.

Scandinavian countries have picked the best of right and left. It's time we re-defined the word "Swedenization" – instead of a slur, it's an example of smart economics.

soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. Nadia Alirahi


    My name is Nadia AliRahi, I am participating in Harvard Model UN, representing Sweden and am part of the Legal Committee.

    I have just a couple questions:

    – What is the process of operation for MNCs in the European Union? Do they needs permission to operation by the EU or by the host country itself?

    – If the EU approves it, what laws does that MNC follow? EU regulations? Host-State regulations? Home-State regulations?

    – What is the general public sentiment towards MNCs and out-of-state countries operating in Europe?

    If you are unable to answer these questions, I would really appreciate it if you could redirect these questions to an individual who can.


    Nadia AliRahi

    January 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  2. Iakovos Alhadeff

    May 8, 2014 at 5:56 am | Reply
  3. Penny Robinson Fan Club

    So Sweden has succeeded by becoming less socialist, is what I'm reading. Sweden also does not have (yet) a permanent underclass which has been carefully taught that it cannot succeed and is dependent on government handouts, and does not contribute to the pot.

    Sweden, where a pizza costs 50 bucks, but at least they make the trains run on time.

    August 15, 2015 at 8:50 am | Reply
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