Nordic welfare woes

What to think about the Swedish election

Published September 18, 2006 11:24PM (EDT)

Every time a left of center government loses power in a Scandinavian country, someone declares the end of the welfare state as we know it. And yet, somehow, Norway, Sweden and Denmark continue more or less along the same path as before, with allowances for operational tweaking. Although I can't pretend to be an expert on Swedish politics, my bet is the same will be true for Sweden, where this past weekend the center-right Moderates knocked out the center-left Social Democrats, by a whisker.

The New Economist promptly declared that the "Swedish Model" is set for a "major overhaul," and the righty blogosphere is hooting with glee at the "socialist" defeat. But the New York Times' prediction that a "fine tuning" is in the offing seems more likely. Observers have been quick to point out that four years ago the Moderates campaigned on a platform of big tax cuts and were trounced. Their proposals for reform have since become considerably more, er, moderate.

What seems beyond the capability of right-wing market fundamentalists is to imagine that the Swedes might actually like their welfare state, even if, from time to time, they decide to vote out the current batch of politicans and make some changes to the overall formula.

Salon contributor and U.K. journalist Andrew Brown is working on a book about "Sweden and the Future." Taking time off from writing a column for the Guardian on the election to exchange a quick e-mail, he noted that this shouldn't be interpreted "as a big swing to the right. The thing about Swedish politics is that there is always a pretty tight consensus among the ruling class about what ought to be done; just sometimes a disagreement about who ought to do it." UPDATE: The New Economist pushes back, quoting from a Financial Times story detailing upcoming changes. But also has the good grace to post a powerful opposing view, from a Swede.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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