Dear Reader Tom Stinnett alerted me to a really doom-laden article about Sweden in yesterday’s Guardian. Says Ruben Andersson (apparently a Swedish expat and anthropologist),

Sweden’s conservative coalition government has stood still as the financial crisis has engulfed the country. Jobs, social services and healthcare are eroding. The Sweden Democrats – the equivalent of the BNP – are on the rise. The social state is failing. The Swedish dream is no more. … Sweden’s homemade financial meltdown of the 1990s … finally killed off the dream. Poverty was added to the pessimism. Savage cuts hit schools, unemployment rocketed, the krona sank – leaving the social system in a disarray from which it has not recovered.

Now, I certainly don’t pretend to have a very comprehensive or updated view of the state of my country’s social security system and national economy. But I’ve lived here for decades, and I do know that our society is very far from “eroding”, “failing” and “in disarray”.

Swedish media have been discussing the uncertain future of our high-taxes, cheap social services system for about twenty years now. They have been unfailingly gloomy about it. But it still costs me only $19 to see a doctor (no, the queue is never long as Andersson claims) and $260 a month to have a child in daycare. Swedish universities still don’t charge students a fee, and anybody can still have six years’ worth of government loans to support them through their studies.

Andersson’s piece appears to be the first he’s sold to the Guardian. My impression is that in order to make the sale, Andersson fed his editor a scary interesting story that happens not to be true. His choice of words suggests that he has pretty extreme libertarian opinions that cause him to want the Swedish system to fail. He would dislike it simply on first principles even if the system showed no weaknesses whatsoever.

Psychiatric care, the source of many … scandals, has a near-medieval penchant for authoritarianism with few European equivalents. People are locked up for months for not taking medicine, given no therapy, and spat out of the system into despair and destitution. The mentally ill die in wards and in outpatient isolation. And they do not even have charities to turn to

This is bollocks. The main problem with the Swedish psychiatric care system is that out of misguided respect for their integrity, patients who can’t really take care of themselves are allowed to roam free and homeless. And note the guy’s highly suggestive love of charities. He simply doesn’t like high taxes and collective solutions. He then goes on to talk about “Sweden’s second-rate public services”, which is just a joke.

Dear Reader, to get a fair large-scale grip on current Swedish society, you shouldn’t listen to me, because I spend most of my time in the 1st Millennium AD. And you certainly shouldn’t listen to Ruben Andersson, because he is an axe-grinding anti-collectivist who is more interested in influencing society than describing it.

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    July 1, 2009

    Meanwhile, in Japan there’s a whole small cottage industry of journalists and tv-crews reporting on everything that is wonderful about the Swedish welfare systems. Things like comprehensive, inexpensive daycare, and various outpatient, assisted living and long-term home options for the elderly and handicapped are things that are very good compared to the Japanese system. If you look at the Guardian piece and the reports in Japan you’d not think it possible that they’re reporting on the same country.

    And yet, I understand this. Everything is relative. For instance, even though the Swedish assistance for chronically ill elderly patients have plenty of problems, it really is extremely good compared to Japan, where the default and usually only option is for a daughter or daughter-in-law to devote their full time to nurse you. And if you have no money and no relatives willing or able to take you in, then there’s always the street, starvation or suicide.

    On the other hand, there’s things working much better in Japan than in Sweden; all basic dental care (that includes bridgework and similar) is treated the same as medical care and is covered by your health insurance, with an out-of-pocket fee on the order of 700-2000 yen (7-20 dollars) per visit. What you do need to pay yourself is “extra” stuff, like getting ceramic rather than metal crowns on the molars, not just the front teeth, for instance; or getting implants rather than a bridge.

  2. #2 Martin R
    July 1, 2009

    I agree about dental care. It’s such a strange holdover from way back that your teeth aren’t treated like an important part of your overall health in Sweden.

  3. #3 Alexandra Lynch
    July 1, 2009

    Things are relative, indeed. I would happily pay high taxes if I could get my dislocated foot bone fused.

  4. #4 Bog
    July 1, 2009

    Now, I certainly don’t pretend to have a very comprehensive or updated view of the state of my country’s social security system and national economy. But I’ve lived here for decades, and I do know that our society is very far from “eroding”, “failing” and “in disarray”.

    The thing is, I could the same thing about life here in the USA. I hear all the dire news, but in my day to day life things are still pretty normal. My employer is actually hiring and having a hard time finding engineers with the skill set we need. Not agreeing or disagreeing, just pondering if either of us have the perspective or access to info to make a final judgment. For example, have you surveyed every queue or seen a survey of that metric?

  5. #5 Martin R
    July 1, 2009

    Well now, Bog, I’m not holding forth in the Guardian about the situation, am I?

  6. #6 johannes
    July 1, 2009

    There are randroids (yes, I know, not all libertarians are objectivists, but I just couldn’t resist it ;-)) writing for the Grauniad? Islamists, yes – some Guardianistas still live in 1878 and think it is the foremost duty of an Englishman to save the Ottoman empire from the slavic hordes ;-) – and even the occassional strasserite (Neil Clark); but randbots :-o?

  7. #7 derek
    July 1, 2009

    Swedish media have been discussing the uncertain future of our system for about twenty years now.

    Only since 1989? Are you sure it’s not more like thirty years? That would place it more in the tradition of Thatcherism in Britain and Reaganism in America. They too declared the doom of social welfare systems that were actually serving the majority of their populations well and sustainably, and brought the doom they promised once they had gained power.

  8. #8 Martin R
    July 1, 2009

    Sweden’s a little bit different. Our current right-wing government, which is a rare sight historically speaking, only got into power by adopting New Labour politics. Thatcher/Reagan politics would be seen as non-viable extremism here.

  9. #9 Mike Olson
    July 1, 2009

    Thanks for the first hand account, Martin.

  10. #10 Melissa
    July 3, 2009

    Sweden is an unusual place. Some things are very nice and some things are very annoying. My strategy when I lived in Sweden was just to not get sick by eating healthy and brushing my teeth. I was highly motivated because my Swedish boyfriend did get ill and his treatment was very strange. Long waits, misdiagnoses, seeing a different doctor every time, lost work…it wasn’t fun. I’m sure it’s a great place to have an acute problem like a broken leg, but the treatment for chronic illnesses was very poor. Sweden has some work to do, but honestly, at least there is something.

    Can’t say the same for the dental problems, which is not covered in Swedes over 18. My boyfriend and many of his 20 something male friends were planning a trip to Hungary to get root canals, which they wouldn’t have needed if they had been able to see a dentist cheaply each year.

    I continue to live healthily in the US because I have no health insurance at all. Graduate education in the US also sets you back a pretty penny, sometimes in debt owned by unscrupulous companies that you have to take on despite cleaning floors at a local diner. Swedes get free graduate education and enough money to allow them to focus on their studies instead of scrubbing floors. They have to pay it back to the state eventually, but from what I understand, they are easy to pay back slowly and there is no interest.

    Overall I’d say if they writer had actually lived in Sweden, he’d realize it’s much nicer on so many levels than the US and the UK.

  11. #11 Ralph Swanson
    July 3, 2009

    Here is what Libertarianism in the US gets you:

    >The Earned Income Credit, developed by Libertarians, uses government savings to supplement low incomes up to $500 a month. In Alaska Libertarians led a campaign to create the Permanent Fund based on social investment instead of taxes provides a family of 4-5 about $10,000 a year.The state abolished its income tax.
    >Private US health insurance costs as low $100 a month and gives better coverage than Sweden. Dental discount plans provide to %75 off and many free services.
    >A growing number of people are retiring as millionaires since the legalization of tax favored retirement arrangements in contrst to Social Security.
    >The US Medicaid-Medicare system covers the low income with comprehensive insurance superior to every country I’ve examined with “universal” health insurance, including nursing home eldercare and pre-natal, which is why US government health care is so expensive (these create 60% of the cost and double the cost of most EC countries which leave people to their own devices). Libertarians want to privatize it with voluntary trusts such as was done with the Alaska Fund with consumer control.
    >A local childcare co-op here in Florida charges $200 a month or 20 hours volunteer contribution. The volunteer contribution also gets you %30 off on food. Good luck with that government run program that costs 25% more.
    >Again in Florida, Libertarians persuaded the legislature to legalize gambling including a state lottery which now supports free college tuition, no taxes involved. There are colleges that provide credit by examination for a few hundred dollars.Florida has no income tax, a low sales tax, and a large property tax examption.

    Get clear that Libertarians want to de-coerce government services into an array of private services that work and cover everyone cheaply and efficiently.Do not slander Libertarians by repeating tired left-wing or right-wing nonsense or the writings of some ignoramus. I suggest you go to our developing website to see what’s happening.

  12. #12 Kaleberg
    July 4, 2009

    I doubt that Andersson is actually anti-collectivist. Most likely he is simply for authoritarian collectives, corporations, but against democratic collectives, governments. It isn’t the collective organization that rankles, it’s that it might benefit more than a small number of people.

  13. #13 cls
    July 5, 2009

    Odd how this article and the headline seem to be a tad bit dishonest. The headline calls this writer in the Guardian a “libertarian.” Perhaps he is, perhaps he isn’t. No evidence is ever provided to back that up merely an assertion that his article “suggests” he is a scary libertarian. So, without evidence, the author claims there is a suggestion of something, and then he claims the suggestion, which is presented without evidence, is then presented in the headline as fact.

    That is bad writing but dishonest. I would also suspect that the author of this blog probably doesn’t haven’t the foggiest idea what it means to be a libertarian. So many people don’t. And when people use it as a smear, as it was used here, and isn’t worried about presenting evidence, then I have trouble taking them seriously.

  14. #14 OriGuy
    July 5, 2009

    Ralph Swanson, what US health insurance costs $100 a month? I pay nearly that much after my employer kicks in. An individual policy can’t be had for nearly that little. If I lost my job, I could get COBRA coverage for 18 months, for about $500 a month. After that, I doubt I could get it at any price.

    And what is this with Libertarians developing the EIC? The Libertarian Party in the USA hasn’t gotten more than a handful of elected officials above the level of city council anywhere.

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