Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Neoliberalism and the decline of Sweden's real economy

One of highlights of my first trip to Sweden in 1970 was a visit with a cousin in Kalmar who was an engineer working on a new Volvo factory.  His specialty was the design of compressed air systems.  The Volvo job was extra big because management had decided that even in assembly areas, the noise level was not to exceed 78 db.  In 1970, that was quieter than the interior of an expensive passenger car at highway speeds.  Air tools are widely used in automobile assembly and air tools can be VERY loud—not to mention annoying.  So my cousin's job was to design systems that could muffle the racket produced by scores of air tools running all the time.

Reducing the noise levels of an automobile factory was damn expensive so this decision had been approved by the most senior management.  In this case, it was the new young CEO of Volvo—a guy by the name of Pehr G. Gyllenhammar.  A little cultural note here—when a Swede has a name like Gyllenhammar, this is no peasant like a Larsson would be.  This guy is royalty—yes the Swedes have not abolished hereditary nobility—and he has a Viking name so he is the real deal.

The main reason why the Social Democrats didn't rid Sweden of their royalty is because the royals had found ways to make themselves useful.  This is probably a Lutheran influence.  Lutherans are taught that it is not the job you hold but how well you do it that counts—so even royalty is expected to contribute to the social good.  And over the years, Swedish royalty has made serious contributions.  For example, there was the Count of Wisborg Folke Bernadotte, a man murdered in 1948 by the Irgun gang for the "crime" of trying the make peace in Palestine.  There was Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary-General of the United Nations who died in 1961 trying to bring peace to the Congo.  (There is some dispute over Hammarskjöld's royal status but with with a Viking name and a family that had served the court since the 17th century, it is an unimportant quibble.  The point here is that royalty itself was expected to serve the nation.)

Even though plans for the Kalmar factory were well advanced when he took over Volvo, Gyllenhammar would put his stamp of royal noblesse oblige on the final outcome.  For example, he believed that worker's health problems were his problems—no one should have to sacrifice their health to simply build cars.  This meant no working over one's head, no stooping, mechanical assist for heavy lifting, etc.  (He actually wrote a book about his goals for the ideal factory published in 1977 called People at Work.  See also an amazing interview from 1986.)  And of course, building cars shouldn't ruin your hearing, and so my cousin got to design a complex system of muffled air tools.

Many things astonished me on my first trip to Sweden.  But at the top of the list was a royal who went to work every day trying to create an environment where people could do their best work without hurting themselves.  The most enlightened automobile executive in the world was a man who didn't have to work at all.  Of course, he caught flak for "coddling" his workforce.  Some accused him of doing this for the cynical purposes of marketing an "ethical" car.  My take is that he was culturally caught up in some Lutheran version of noblesse oblige.  Whatever.  For all of history's attempts to create a worker's paradise, the Kalmar Volvo factory probably came as close as any to this ideal.  And it was accomplished without beheading the nobility.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story.  Not long after I had read People at Work, I began to hear about another Swedish royal making an international splash.  We were told he was a prodigy—a man with photographic memory with the best education a family like his could buy.  But there was something odd—stories of bright Swedes are very rare yet as I read one puff piece, something occurred to me—there is nothing remotely unusual about smart Swedes.  My family is full of them—I have a niece who was reading at 21 months.  Furthermore as I have discovered in life, a high IQ is a vastly over-rated skill set.  High IQ people can have some extremely goofy ideas—their intelligence merely makes it possible to know more details and become more fanatic about them.  They are just smart enough to be dangerous.

We are talking about Carl Bildt—the current Swedish foreign minister and someone currently in the crosshairs of Julian Assange of Wikileaks.  Bildt was not getting puff pieces written about him in the international press because he was some great genius.  He is not exactly Linnaeus, after all.  Rather, Bildt was considered valuable to the forces of reaction because he was a reasonably articulate critic of the social welfare state as largely invented in Sweden and then spread to the rest of Western Europe.  Bildt would become a pet of the neoliberals because he could spread their nonsense in the home of the best-constructed alternative.

This right-wing assault on Sweden's carefully constructed "worker's paradise" was amazingly successful.  When I visited Sweden in 1995, Bildt's vision had triumphed.  The Social Democratic Party was in ruins—they had accepted the principles of neoliberalism and so were reduced to satisfying their cranky loyalists who sought only to expand the definitions of political correctness.  Young Swedish economists weren't out to follow the examples of Gunnar Myrdal—they were too busy selling Russian privatization bonds.  And they were encouraged by a Swedish establishment that stopped awarding the Riksbank Prize (Nobel for economics) to guys like Myrdal (1974).

It is probably unlikely that a Carl Bildt would have been nearly as successful at some other point in Swedish history (like the 1950s).  But the global zeitgeist in the 1980s was towards neoliberalism and Bildt merely brought that destruction to Sweden.  As the old Populists used to say—any jackass can kick down the barn.

WikiLeaks smear effort to reveal Bildt as US 'spy'
Published: 22 Feb 12

WikiLeaks is planning a smear campaign against Sweden to halt the extradition of founder Julian Assange to the United States, including releasing documents allegedly showing that Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has acted as an informant for the United States since the 1970s.

According to an internal WikiLeaks memo reviewed by Swedish tabloid Expressen, WikiLeaks plans to release more classified documents, organize blockades of Swedish embassies and consulates as well as boycotts of Swedish companies.

“This is going to hurt Sweden more than the debate about the Mohammad cartoons,” a source with knowledge of the matter told Expressen.

As Assange enters the final stages of his legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, his colleagues at WikiLeaks have begun preparing for how to prevent the Swedish government from extraditing the founder of the whistle-blower website to the United States.

“That the Swedish government doesn't take this seriously but rather makes it easier for the American government means Sweden finds itself among the countries that don't support transparency, the rights of the individual, and human rights,” the internal WikiLeaks memo reads.

“That puts Sweden and the country's reputation in great danger and the Swedish government is going to be forced to answer to global public opinion which will hold them responsible for not letting people around the world access information to which they have a right.”

WikiLeaks officials are convinced that Sweden has already made a deal with the United States that would see Assange extradited there to testify against Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of leaking thousands of classified US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

There are also fears that Assange could be arrested and put on trial for espionage against the United States, WikiLeaks sources tell Expressen.

“If he's extradited, we fear for his life and that's something Sweden will pay a high price for,” a source said.

Among the documents WikiLeaks plans to make public is a US diplomatic report showing that Carl Bildt has served as an informant for the United States since the 1970s.

“There are secret documents that reveal that Bildt cooperated with the American administration in a way that violates Swedish law,” a WikiLeaks source told the paper.

“He'll be forced to resign. It will be the end of his political career.”

According to WikiLeaks, Bildt's original contact is political consultant Karl Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, and someone who Bildt has openly referred to as “an old friend”.

While WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson refused to comment on the details of the report about Bildt, she told Expressen “it's going to be released soon”.

Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle said Bildt had nothing to say about the claims.

“We're going to hold off on commenting. We want to see what sort of document it is before we comment,” he told the paper.

However, Bildt acknowledged the Expressen report on his official Twitter account.

"Media reports that Wikileaks is planning what they describe as a 'smear campaign' against Sweden. Good to know," Bildt wrote, alongside a link to the Expressen article.

He also reacted to the report on his blog, challenging WikiLeaks "this in their opinion damning report".

"When that happens, this part of their planned 'smear campaign' will quickly fall apart," he wrote. more
I am CERTAIN that Carl Bildt tried to ingratiate himself with every neoliberal pig on the planet.  That he compiled a large database of shady characters is probably beyond rational debate anymore.  That he actually spied for USA—that might be a stretch.
High spy: WikiLeaks accuses Swedish FM of spying for US
Published: 22 February, 2012, 20:44

The world famous whistleblowing group WikiLeaks claims it has documents exposing Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt as an American spy and is promising to publish them soon. 
The documents prove that Bildt has been a US informer since 1973 and that he collaborated with the US government in ways that contradict Swedish law, the Swedish tabloid Expressen reports. 
It also reports that publication of the materials will inevitably lead to the resignation of the foreign minister and the end of his political career. The Swedish Foreign Ministry said that it first needs to see the documents before issuing any comments on the case. 
Bildt does not seem to be worried by the WikiLeaks announcement. On his blog page the minister wrote that as soon as the documents are published “this part of their [WikiLeaks] planned 'smear campaign' will quickly fall apart.” 
Some say that WikiLeaks threats to Swedish officials are directly connected to the case of the website’s founder, Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden over rape and sexual assault allegations. 
Assange is currently in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden. His supporters say that if he is sent to Sweden he will then be extradited to the US. 
The upcoming premier of Julian Assange talk show on RT in March may provide a glimpse into WikiLeaks mechanics and more. more
Yes, you can read the following gruesome details of Sweden's best-known neoliberal.  Or you can just assume he is a nightmare Yuppie come to life in Eurotrash form.
Our Man Bildt
A look into the affairs of Sweden's minister for foreign affairs. Part one.

DUCKPOND (Rixstep) — Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt seems to never be out of the news. Bildt's repeatedly denied talking with representatives of the US about Julian Assange. Bildt's been described in the US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks as 'a medium size dog who believes he's a big dog'. 
This article series takes a look at the man and what he's been up to.
January 2012 
Massive demonstrations were held in Sweden in the middle of January this year against Carl Bildt and his friends at Lundin Oil. Most of the protesters are from countries in the 'horn of Africa' where Lundin Oil had interests. 
The reason people demonstrated is there have been tens of thousands of people tortured, butchered, and murdered in that area, an estimated 150,000 - 200,000 forcibly driven from their homes - and all in the name of Lundin Oil and their business partners. And Carl Bildt was a member of the board of directors of Lundin Oil (now renamed Lundin Petroleum) 2000-2006. 
Nils Daniel Carl Bildt is blue blood. Nobility. And not just any old nobility either - his blood line goes back to at least the 1400s. The clan were originally from Denmark, then migrated to what then was part of Norway. Sweden later annexed that area, and so the Bildts became Swedish nobility instead. 
Carl Bildt was born in Halmstad, the same town Roxette's Per Gessle hails from. He's the son of bureau director Daniel Bildt and association secretary Kerstin Andersson-Alwå. He has a younger brother Anders. 
Carl Bildt did his early education at the the Östermalm high school Östra Real which dates back to the 1600s.

Carl Bildt got on the telly at the ripe age of 17. When the country was in turmoil because of a nationwide teachers strike, Bildt - then chairman of the student council - 'broke' the strike by organising classes led by the students themselves. 
Two years later at the ripe age of 19 and when Sweden as Europe in general was again in turmoil and the university students had 'occupied' the student union - leading minister for education Olof Palme to try unsuccessfully to talk with them - Carl Bildt got out there to organise the opposition. 
Carl Bildt joined the conservative party 'Moderaterna' (then 'Moderata Samlingspartiet') when he graduated from high school, and did his military service as personal assistant with the peacetime Swedish defence staff agency Försvarsstaben, entered the university, and became political secretary for the 'Right Wing Students' and from there led the opposition to the occupation of the student union. 
Carl Bildt became vice chairman of the conservatives' student association in 1971, chairman in 1973, but surprisingly never completed his academic studies. Instead he became political secretary for the conservatives ('Moderata Samlingspartiet') and collaborated closely with party leader Gösta Bohman. (Carl Bildt was later to marry Bohman's daughter.) 
Olof Palme and the social democrats lost the election in 1976, the first time in a very long time they didn't retain power. A government was formed by spurious oppositional parties and Carl Bildt was called in to help organise things. Bohman and the others began to speculate about Carl Bildt's future and the remote possibility he would someday be prime minister of Sweden. 
Carl Bildt ascended even more in the years of the wobbly oppositional government, appointed 'expert' in a number of areas and by parliament itself regarded as an expert in international politics. 
Trip to Washington 
A Soviet submarine washed up on the shores of Sweden in the early 1980s, causing a considerable international incident. Olof Palme was again prime minister and he was busy trying to sort things out with the 'Big Bear'. Carl Bildt chose this time to travel to the US to discuss 'international politics' with the CIA. Palme wasn't happy about it.

The 'Russian submarine scares' began shortly afterward. The tabloids were full of double page spreads of murky photos of the Swedish archipelago where submarines (or perhaps Loch Ness monsters) could be seen as shady blotches. Carl Bildt repeatedly urged his country to take a tougher stand against Soviet aggression. 
Of course it later emerged that the whole thing was a 'frat boy' stunt by the CIA and NATO to shift Swedish public opinion out of legendary neutrality and into the arms of the US. The international arm of the US Republican Party had already made contact - Fredrick Reinfeldt was one of their 'future prospects'. 
Marriage & Power 
Carl Bildt married conservative party leader Bohman's daughter Mia in 1984 and took over party leadership two years later, the same year Olof Palme was assassinated. Carl Bildt was able to form a government of his own following the elections in 1991. 
Carl Bildt set about privatising the country, selling government interests, and initiating and completing the process whereby Sweden would join the EU. Carl Bildt also began the project to build the Öresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark. 
The social democrats again took power in 1994, but Carl Bildt was the one who signed Sweden's treaty for induction into the EU on Korfu 23 June, and shortly after became an EU 'mediator'. Bildt and friends again lost in the national elections of 1998, so he resigned his post as leader of the conservatives. 
Carl Bildt was appointed mediator by the UN for the wars in Yugoslavia in 1995, and on 14 December that same year became the first 'High Representative' for the office in Bosnia charged with carrying out the peace treaty. By 1999 he was Kofi Annan's special representative in the Balkans, and he continued in that role until 2001. 
But by then he was on the board of directors of Lundin Oil. 
Medals, Honours, More Power 
Carl Bildt can hold his own with the best of them - with the stuffy old apparatchiks who used to review troops from the Kremlin on international workers day. 
He's been a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences since 1989. 
He's the recipient of the Belgian Order of the Crown, Estland's Pro Terra Mariana Cross, Finland's Order of the White Rose, Luxembourg's Order of the Oak Crown, the Norwegian Order of Service, the German Order of Service, grand officer of Latvia's Order of the Three Stars, admiral of Britain's Order of St Michael and St George, and is admiral of the French Honorary Legion. 
He received the Swedish king's medal of the 12th size (with chain) on 6 June 2003 with the motivation 'for truly outstanding political accomplishments', the second highest honour that can be bestowed on a Swedish citizen.

But it's Carl Bildt's reach and influence which are scary. Bildt is a board member for:
  • Apen Italia (Rome)
  • European Policy Centre (Bruxelles)
  • Centre for European Reform (London)
  • International Institute for Strategic Studies (London)
  • Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (close ties with Bush administration)
  • RAND Corporation (Arlington Country VA, Santa Monica) (1st ever outside US)
  • Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences
Bildt is also a member of:
  • Bilderberg Group (since 2006)
  • International Democrat Union (chairman 1992-1999)
  • Trilateral Commission (founded by David Rockefeller)
  • Council of Centre for the study of Terrorism and Political Violence
  • Bildt also sat on the board of directors of the Russian investment company Vostok Nafta (based today in Bermuda) who control the Russian state gas company Gazprom. Bildt also was on the advisory committee of East Capital.
  • Bildt's portfolio of stock in Vostok Nafta was reported to the Swedish parliament's constitutional committee. Bildt sold the stock two months later.
The Swedish general secretary for Amnesty International criticised Bildt's interests in Gazprom, but Bildt again avoided controversy by promising to divest all his interests in the corporation. more
There is a price to be paid for the neoliberal destruction of Sweden's real economy.  Last year they set a record for most emigrants.  And so we come full circle.  When I wonder why my grandparents left Sweden in the 19th century, the answer is pretty obvious.  Jackasses like Carl Bildt are probably the norm and folks like him made it very difficult for people like my forebears to even survive.
'Most Swedish emigrants ever in 2011'
Published: 21 Feb 12

2011 marked the largest exodus from Sweden in history with over 50,000 people leaving the country, with China proving to be an ever more popular destination for Swedes who move abroad.

While Sweden added 67,285 people to its population last year, a record 51,179 people left the country, reported Statistics Sweden (Statistiska Centralbyrån -SCB).

"I would say this is due to Swedish companies that have moved abroad, and to an extent, some Swedes follow. I’m thinking of these call centers, they maybe move to other countries and then have a need for people who can speak Swedish,” said Lena Bernhardtz of the SCB to Dagens Nyheter on Monday.

2011 gave the biggest emigration figure ever, even larger than 1887’s mass exodus to America.

SCB suggests the growing numbers of emigrants are due to the populations “increased ability to move”.

However, the agency emphasized the importance of viewing the emigration figures in relation to Sweden's larger population.

While the 1887 movement entailed one percent of the total population leaving Sweden, the new figures, while involving a larger total number of people, only amounts to one half of a percent of Sweden's total population of 9.48 million people.

China proved to be the fastest growing popular destination for Swedes moving abroad, with an 80 percent growth of Swedish emigrants to China compared to 2010.

Last year, 1,787 people chose to move to China, a figure which is five times higher than back in 2000.

As with previous years, SCB reported that the most popular destinations for Swedish emigrants were the Nordic neighbours, the UK and the United States.

Bernhardtz also noted that emigrants are also returning to Sweden to a greater extent than in previous years, which has been made easier than ever in recent years, and particularly applies to students who have taken gap years or have worked abroad.

The immigration figures grew in 2011 as well, with 96,467 arriving in Sweden last year.

While 15,000 of these people were Swedish born, the SCB reported that people from Poland, Iraq and Afghanistan were the most common natonalities of people who immigrated to Sweden in 2011. more 


  1. Very interesting post. As an Englishman living since mid-2011 in Sweden I have a strong feeling that Sweden is a troubled land. I assumed that it has always been this way but we are all living in very uncertain times on many levels. If you rightly assume that the welfare state is not as it has been and not really any better than anywhere else in Western Europe then you are living in an expensive country with long, cold and dark winters with a populace still engrained to a degree in Jantelogen. its no small wonder that people are moving away. Sweden has a long and successful history of excellent international PR and statistics always seem to be kind but I think it is wearing a little thin. I don't live in one of the more 'cosmopolitan' cities but a sizable one by Swedish standards and I often feel that despite looking at the cutting edge of 2012 the people are very backward thinking socially. And that has been a big surprise.

    1. Sorry to be picky about a typo, but the Swedish term is Jantelagen. I know that very well as I got married to a Swedish woman in 1979 and moved with her to Sweden, and more precisely an island called Brännö outside Gothenburg. When I first arrived, everything worked quite well but things deteriorated when the Swedish politiicians succumbed to the same nonsense that private run companies where by their nature better than state-owned. This was simply not true in a Swedish context as the state-owned pharmacies offer a fantastic service. When my wife fell ill with breast cancer, I woman employee at one of the phamracies gave me a card so that I could just well into the pharmacy attached to the vast hopital complex in Gothenburg and get the drugs I need straight away. Thse women employees (they wer invariably women) were excellent and their customer service skills were superb. When my wife died in 2005, I decided to leave but was fortunate enough to find another partner who was born in Stockholm but had lived over 30 years in the UK and who had moved back to Sweden but since she could afford a house only in the Swedish countryside, had ended out in a village outside Örebro, where half the population were evangelical Christians. We moved together to Eastbourn at Xmas 2007 and bought a house there amost a year later. When I first lived in Sweden, there was a good bit of socialising but as the Maggie madness spread, it became increasingly desolate. Happily, I got involved with a bunch of Russian refugees who settled there and made several good friends, largely because I studied Russian at university in the UK. I made a fairly good living as a freelance translator but being self-employed in Sweden is very difficult since you have to pay high social security charges whereas in the UK National Insurance contributions are much, much smaller.

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