Sunday, March 25, 2012

Neoliberalism and today's Sweden

This article confirms what I have long suspected—that the Sweden I discovered in 1970, 1972, and 1989 exists only in the history books these days. I saw the evidence for myself in 1995 that neoliberalism had come to dominate Sweden and especially the Social Democratic Party just as certainly as in USA and with the Democrats.  I just didn't want to believe it.  Bigotry must have been working, I confess, because even though the Nobel Committee was handing out their "Memorial" Prize in Economics to one neoliberal crackpot after another, I just assumed that "my" tribe was just too sane to be caught up in this madness.  I was clutching at straws when I saw that Sweden didn't join the Euro, or when they handled their banking crises in 1992 by nationalizing the bad actors.

Then last sumer when I was visited by a college professor from Finland, I was utterly shocked at how far to the right he had drifted politically.  He still maintained his Nordic political correctness, only now it was in service of the Leisure Classes.  For example, when I suggested that the banksters had committed so many serious crimes that the citizenry might well be thinking of greasing up the old guillotines, he informed me quite primly that such a crack would now be labeled "hate speech" in Finland.  And while Finland is not Sweden, the big difference is that the Finns are only truly happy when they are outperforming their old colonial masters.  So I am pretty sure that my friend was an A+ version of whatever is going on in Sweden.

Sweden is already paying a high price for her embrace of neoliberalism.  Youth unemployment is ridiculously high and in 2011, more Swedes emigrated than at any time since 1887.  Apparently, parroting right-wing economics will destroy (at least partially) the hard-won global reputation for having the most admirable and advanced political system in the world.

Liberalization fastest in Sweden: report

24 Mar 12 19:38 CET

Sweden has had a quicker liberalisation than any other advanced economy in the world, in terms of privatisation and deregulation, according to conservative American think tank The Heritage Foundation.

"Among developed economies, Sweden's climbed the ranks fastest since 1996," said the think tank's political analyst Anthony Kim to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Kim's comments come in response to a study carried out by Heritage at the behest of SvD.

The newspaper wanted to know more about how the pace of liberalisation in Sweden compared with how the process had been carried out in other countries.

Liberalisation policies have been backed by previous social democratic governments as well as the current centre-right government.

Certain areas make Sweden stand out in the crowd, in particular labour migration, the country's publicly funded, privately managed free schools, and the deregulated railroad.

Sweden's regulations on labour migration, where being offered employment is enough to make the system one of the most open in the western world, according to OECD.

The Swedish school system is also one of the world's most liberal. Only Chile's school system is at a similar level. What's completely unique is that the Swedish government doesn't care who owns the school.

"In twenty years, we went from one of the world's most regulated school systems to the world's most liberal," said national economist Jonas Vlachos to Svenska Dagbladet. more


  1. A few years ago I used to joke with my wife that we should move from the US to Sweden, since they seemed like one of the few sane countries left. I see now that they're succumbing to the same ideologies that are taking most of the rest of the developed world by storm.

    It's amazing how we've entered this era of highly connected, relatively free-flowing facts and opinions, yet the diversity and range of thought on matters relating to politics and economics keeps getting narrower and narrower. Even the 2008 crash did very little to change the bigger picture. I'm afraid we'll need something much more drastic now...

  2. I think neoliberalism is about to collapse of its own mistakes. They are just too many and significant. My question is, what will replace it. I am HOPING we can avoid Communism and Fascism this time around, but here in USA, a real alternative has not presented itself.

    As for Sweden, I have gone from "Grandfather, how could you have ever left THIS!" and "Olaf Palme is the greatest statesman alive because he is willing to confront LBJ over Vietnam" to, "Oh NOW I get it!" and "Carl Bildt is the most evil neoliberal to walk the planet!"

  3. It's the narrowing of options ("There is no alternative") over the past decades that worries me. I have the impression that most people, going about their day to day lives, don't talk or think too much about these issues. The public "mental space" on these topics is severely limited, to the point that when the collapse does come most people will not have any guidelines for alternatives. The groundwork for alternatives has not been laid. In fact, I think the last couple decades of Rush Limbaugh on the right, neoliberals in the main, and a mix of incoherent and marginalized environmentalists, socialists, etc. on the left has pretty much poisoned the ideological well. There are very few people you can have good discussions with, and few of them can operate outside the dominant conservative vs. liberal framework (even talking about "neoliberalism" is a stretch).

    Given the above, I can see two possible paths that most people will take after/during a collapse: (1) For some, it will be ideological open-season, with the potential for many marginal (and likely more insane) ideas to be entertained. This is when Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, etc. become actual leaders of national socio-political movements, beyond the admittedly high status they currently enjoy. (2) Many people will be so accustomed to the existing neoliberal system that they'll do their damnedest to put it back together--though this likely leads us into something close to (1) eventually, since they will turn to anyone who promises to make things right again.

    Well now I'm just getting depressed :)